Researchers based at CTLGH’s Edinburgh node have discovered that certain livestock are better able to cope with changes in the climate, introducing the possibility of breeding programmes for animals resilient to climate change.
The study, led by Georgios Banos from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Enrique Sanchez Molano from the Roslin Institute found that, in a group of UK sheep and goats, the productivity of some of the animals wasn’t affected by fluctuating weather conditions.
The researchers analysed the animal performance records together with weather data – including the average daily temperature and humidity – and found that although the same weather change invoked a variety of responses in different animals, the productivity of some was not affected at all – making them more resilient to climate change.
With a significant proportion of the observed variation being genetic and heritable, the research group were able to conclude that animal resilience to weather change could be established through selective breeding. The group then analysed the genomes of the animals in the study and identified several candidate genes related to resilience to environment change.
The study, which was recently published in BMC Genetics, has huge implications to further improve the accuracy of selective breeding, leading to the enhanced sustainability and profitability of farms, not only in the UK, but in tropical livestock production systems too.
Agriculture remains the backbone of most low- to middle-income countries and in many rural communities; livestock is the only asset of the poor. Animal production is highly vulnerable to climate variability and extremes and the impact of climate change is expected to heighten the vulnerability of livestock systems in tropical climates. The potential to breed animals that are resilient to changes in climate is therefore a very attractive prospect.
Professor Banos commented: “Climate is changing, bringing about increased weather volatility and livestock have different capacities to cope with this change.
“Being able to identify that heritable variation exists among individuals is a big step forward in our journey to breed animals better equipped to cope with climatic change.”
This new information will enable researchers to continue selectively breeding for enhanced performance – such as high production and health – and at the same time breed for performance stability when external environmental conditions change.
Dr Sanchez-Molano said: “This study has shown that there is enough genetic variation to allow for selection for stability of production under variable weather. The methodology we used should also allow us to study other traits and environmental variables of interest”
The study is part of the Horizon2020 project iSAGE – a multi-million pound EU-funded research project aimed at future proofing the sheep and goat farming industry.