Opportunities to Improve Resilience in Animal Breeding Programs

Front Genet. 2019 Jan 14;9:692. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2018.00692. eCollection 2018.


Resilience is the capacity of an animal to be minimally affected by disturbances or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a disturbance. However, indicators for general resilience to environmental disturbances have not yet been defined, and perhaps therefore resilience is not yet included in breeding goals. The current developments on big data collection give opportunities to determine new resilience indicators based on longitudinal data, which can aid to incorporate resilience in animal breeding goals. The objectives of this paper were: (1) to define resilience indicator traits based on big data, (2) to define economic values for resilience, and (3) to show the potential to improve resilience of livestock through inclusion of resilience in breeding goals. Resilience might be measured based on deviations from expected production levels over a period of time. Suitable resilience indicators could be the variance of deviations, the autocorrelation of deviations, the skewness of deviations, and the slope of a reaction norm. These (new) resilience indicators provide opportunity to include resilience in breeding programs. Economic values of resilience indicators in the selection index can be calculated based on reduced costs due to labor and treatments. For example, when labor time is restricted, the economic value of resilience increases with an increasing number of animals per farm, and can become as large as the economic value of production. This shows the importance of including resilience in breeding goals. Two scenarios were described to show the additional benefit of including resilience in breeding programs. These examples showed that it is hard to improve resilience with only production traits in the selection index, but that it is possible to greatly improve resilience by including resilience indicators in the selection index. However, when health-related traits are already present in the selection index, the effect is smaller. Nevertheless, inclusion of resilience indicators in the selection index increases the response in the breeding goal and resilience, which results in less labor-demanding, and thus easier-to-manage livestock. Current developments on massive collection of data, and new phenotypes based on these data, offer exciting opportunities to breed for improved resilience of livestock.

Keywords: big data; breeding program; economic value; livestock; longitudinal data; macro-environment; micro-environment; resilience.