Confronting pastoralists' knowledge of cattle breeds raised in the extensive production systems of Benin with multivariate analyses of morphological traits

PLoS One. 2019 Sep 26;14(9):e0222756. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222756. eCollection 2019.


Cross-border seasonal livestock movements in West Africa bring into close contact several cattle breeds. In the coastal countries hosting migrating herders from the Sahel, it often affects the genetic variability and geographical distribution of traditional cattle breeds, through their indiscriminate but also intended crossbreeding with larger-framed Sahelian cattle breeds. The need to secure and effectively manage this genetic variability, in order to respond to changing production and market conditions, is widely recognized by the scientific community, livestock herders and policy-makers. This however requires a comprehensive knowledge of the breeds' characteristics. The indigenous criteria used by pastoralists to characterize and distinguish cattle breeds remain unclear and further validation is required. This study was therefore designed to document and validate herders' knowledge on cattle breeds. From June 2015 to June 2016, 803 cattle herders participated in a phenotypic breed description in seven pastoral communities across the country. Each cattle herder was asked to name and describe morphologically the different cattle breeds in his herd. Subsequently, fifteen body measurements taken on a total of 1401 adult cattle (964 cows and 439 bulls) were submitted to multivariate analyses. Participants distinguished ten different cattle breeds kept in traditional herds according to six primary morphological traits and clearly separated zebuine from taurine breeds. These results were consistent with those of the multivariate analyses of the measured traits. However, herders' classification approach proved to be more accurate in distinguishing breeds within the zebuine subspecies. Hence, while metric measurements and molecular genetic analyses are promising approaches to fill the knowledge gap on the diversity of local farm animal genetic resources, they should integrate livestock herders' traditional knowledge for more precision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Benin
  • Cattle / genetics*
  • Farmers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Hybridization, Genetic*
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Phenotype*
  • Professional Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable

Grant support

This work was supported by Volkswagen Foundation, Germany (DE) to LHD, Grant number: Az 89 367, URL: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.