Determining the value of livestock breeds is essential to define conservation priorities, manage genetic diversity and allocate funds. Within- and between-breed genetic diversity need to be assessed to preserve the highest intra-specific variability. Information on genetic diversity and risk status is still lacking for many Creole cattle breeds from the Americas, despite their distinct evolutionary trajectories and adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.
A comprehensive genetic analysis of 67 Iberoamerican cattle breeds was carried out with 19 FAO-recommended microsatellites to assess conservation priorities. Contributions to global diversity were investigated using alternative methods, with different weights given to the within- and between-breed components of genetic diversity. Information on Iberoamerican plus 15 worldwide cattle breeds was used to investigate the contribution of geographical breed groups to global genetic diversity.
Overall, Creole cattle breeds showed a high level of genetic diversity with the highest level found in breeds admixed with zebu cattle, which were clearly differentiated from all other breeds. Within-breed kinships revealed seven highly inbred Creole breeds for which measures are needed to avoid further genetic erosion. However, if contribution to heterozygosity was the only criterion considered, some of these breeds had the lowest priority for conservation decisions. The Weitzman approach prioritized highly differentiated breeds, such as Guabalá, Romosinuano, Cr. Patagonico, Siboney and Caracú, while kinship-based methods prioritized mainly zebu-related breeds. With the combined approaches, breed ranking depended on the weights given to the within- and between-breed components of diversity. Overall, the Creole groups of breeds were generally assigned a higher priority for conservation than the European groups of breeds.
Conservation priorities differed significantly according to the weight given to within- and between-breed genetic diversity. Thus, when establishing conservation programs, it is necessary to also take into account other features. Creole cattle and local isolated breeds retain a high level of genetic diversity. The development of sustainable breeding and crossbreeding programs for Creole breeds, and the added value resulting from their products should be taken into consideration to ensure their long-term survival.