Background: Size of the reference population and reliability of phenotypes are crucial factors influencing the reliability of genomic predictions. It is therefore useful to combine closely related populations. Increased accuracies of genomic predictions depend on the number of individuals added to the reference population, the reliability of their phenotypes, and the relatedness of the populations that are combined.
Methods: This paper assesses the increase in reliability achieved when combining four Holstein reference populations of 4000 bulls each, from European breeding organizations, i.e. UNCEIA (France), VikingGenetics (Denmark, Sweden, Finland), DHV-VIT (Germany) and CRV (The Netherlands, Flanders). Each partner validated its own bulls using their national reference data and the combined data, respectively.
Results: Combining the data significantly increased the reliability of genomic predictions for bulls in all four populations. Reliabilities increased by 10%, compared to reliabilities obtained with national reference populations alone, when they were averaged over countries and the traits evaluated. For different traits and countries, the increase in reliability ranged from 2% to 19%.
Conclusions: Genomic selection programs benefit greatly from combining data from several closely related populations into a single large reference population.