Background: Indirect genetic effects (IGE) are important components of various traits in several species. Although the intensity of social interactions between partners likely vary over time, very few genetic studies have investigated how IGE vary over time for traits under selection in livestock species. To overcome this issue, our aim was: (1) to analyze longitudinal records of average daily gain (ADG) in rabbits subjected to a 5-week period of feed restriction using a structured antedependence (SAD) model that includes IGE and (2) to evaluate, by simulation, the response to selection when IGE are present and genetic evaluation is based on a SAD model that includes IGE or not.
Results: The direct genetic variance for ADG (g/d) increased from week 1 to 3 [from 8.03 to 13.47 (g/d)2] and then decreased [6.20 (g/d)2 at week 5], while the indirect genetic variance decreased from week 1 to 4 [from 0.43 to 0.22 (g/d)2]. The correlation between the direct genetic effects of different weeks was moderate to high (ranging from 0.46 to 0.86) and tended to decrease with time interval between measurements. The same trend was observed for IGE for weeks 2 to 5 (correlations ranging from 0.62 to 0.91). Estimates of the correlation between IGE of week 1 and IGE of the other weeks did not follow the same pattern and correlations were lower. Estimates of correlations between direct and indirect effects were negative at all times. After seven generations of simulated selection, the increase in ADG from selection on EBV from a SAD model that included IGE was higher (~ 30%) than when those effects were omitted.
Conclusions: Indirect genetic effects are larger just after mixing animals at weaning than later in the fattening period, probably because of the establishment of social hierarchy that is generally observed at that time. Accounting for IGE in the selection criterion maximizes genetic progress.