Population Genomics of Pooled Samples: Unveiling Symbiont Infrapopulation Diversity and Host–Symbiont Coevolution

Alix E. Matthews, Than J. Boves, Katie L. Percy, Wendy M. Schelsky, Asela J. Wijeratne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microscopic symbionts represent crucial links in biological communities. However, they present technical challenges in high-throughput sequencing (HTS) studies due to their small size and minimal high-quality DNA yields, hindering our understanding of host–symbiont coevolution at microevolutionary and macroevolutionary scales. One approach to overcome those barriers is to pool multiple individuals from the same infrapopulation (i.e., individual host) and sequence them together (Pool-Seq), but individual-level information is then compromised. To simultaneously address both issues (i.e., minimal DNA yields and loss of individual-level information), we implemented a strategic Pool-Seq approach to assess variation in sequencing performance and categorize genetic diversity (single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)) at both the individual-level and infrapopulation-level for microscopic feather mites. To do so, we collected feathers harboring mites (Proctophyllodidae: Amerodectes protonotaria) from four individual Prothonotary Warblers (Parulidae: Protonotaria citrea). From each of the four hosts (i.e., four mite infrapopulations), we conducted whole-genome sequencing on three extraction pools consisting of different numbers of mites (1 mite, 5 mites, and 20 mites). We found that samples containing pools of multiple mites had more sequencing reads map to the feather mite reference genome than did the samples containing only a single mite. Mite infrapopulations were primarily genetically structured by their associated individual hosts (not pool size) and the majority of SNPs were shared by all pools within an infrapopulation. Together, these results suggest that the patterns observed are driven by evolutionary processes occurring at the infrapopulation level and are not technical signals due to pool size. In total, despite the challenges presented by microscopic symbionts in HTS studies, this work highlights the value of both individual-level and infrapopulation-level sequencing toward our understanding of host–symbiont coevolution at multiple evolutionary scales.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2023


  • Astigmata
  • low-input DNA
  • high-throughput sequencing
  • feather mites
  • ectosymbionts
  • diversity


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