Genetic diversity of European cattle breeds highlights the conservation value of traditional unselected breeds with high effective population size


Ivica Medugorac, Fax: 0049 89 344925; E-mail:


In times of rapid global and unforeseeable environmental changes, there is an urgent need for a sustainable cattle breeding policy, based on a global view. Most of the indigenous breeds are specialized in a particular habitat or production system but are rapidly disappearing. Thus, they represent an important resource to meet present and future breeding objectives. Based on 105 microsatellites, we obtained thorough information on genetic diversity and population structure of 16 cattle breeds that cover a geographical area from the domestication centre near Anatolia, through the Balkan and alpine regions, to the North-West of Europe. Breeds under strict artificial selection and indigenous breeds under traditional breeding schemes were included. The overall results showed that the genetic diversity is widespread in Buša breeds in the Anatolian and Balkan areas, when compared with the alpine and north-western European breeds. Our results reflect long-term evolutionary and short-term breeding events very well. The regular pattern of allele frequency distribution in the entire cattle population studied clearly suggests conservation of rare alleles by conservation of preferably unselected traditional breeds with large effective population sizes. From a global and long-term conservation genetics point of view, the native and highly variable breeds closer to the domestication centre could serve as valuable sources of genes for future needs, not only for cattle but also for other farm animals.