Genomic Tools for the Conservation and Genetic Improvement of a Highly Fragmented Breed—The Ramo Grande Cattle from the Azores
CIISA—Centro de Investigação Interdisciplinar em Sanidade Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária, Universidade Lisboa, Avenida da Universidade Técnica, 1300-477 Lisboa, Portugal
Direção Regional da Agricultura, Secretaria Regional da Agricultura e Florestas da Região Autónoma dos Açores, Vinha Brava, 9701-861 Angra do Heroísmo, Portugal
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 2 June 2020
Revised: 17 June 2020
Accepted: 19 June 2020
Published: 24 June 2020
Inbreeding control is a key concern in managing local endangered breeds, which often have developed unique adaptation features. Ramo Grande is a local cattle breed raised in the Azores archipelago under very harsh conditions, with a census of about 1300 cows dispersed by various islands. This fragmentation is a challenge when the goal is to keep inbreeding under control. Currently, panels of genetic markers are available which enable the assessment of inbreeding and the occurrence of previous bottlenecks in a population. These panels also allow the identification of genes associated with specific production traits, if reliable phenotypic information is available. We used a panel of genetic markers and estimated that the degree of inbreeding was approaching a level of concern, while some exotic gene inflow may have occurred in the past. We were able to identify genetic markers significantly associated with longevity, which reflects the ability of these cattle to remain productive under severe environmental conditions. Genetic markers were also identified as significantly associated with age at first calving and calf growth rate. The results indicate that genomic information can be used to control inbreeding and to implement genomic selection in Ramo Grande cattle to enhance adaptation and production traits.