Genet Sel Evol. 2022 Jun 11;54(1):43. doi: 10.1186/s12711-022-00735-5.
BACKGROUND: If not accounted for, genotype x environment (G×E) interactions can decrease the accuracy of genetic evaluations and the efficiency of breeding schemes. These interactions are reflected by genetic correlations between countries lower than 1. In countries that are characterized by a heterogeneity of production systems, they are also likely to exist within country, especially when production systems are diverse, as is the case in South Africa. We illustrate several alternative approaches to assess the existence of G×E interactions for production traits and age at first calving in Holsteins in South Africa. Data from 257,836 first lactation cows were used. First, phenotypes that were collected in different regions were considered as separate traits and various multivariate animal models were fitted to calculate the estimates of heritability for each region and the genetic correlations between them. Second, a random regression approach using long-term averages of climatic variables at the herd level in a reaction norm model, was used as an alternative way to account for G×E interactions. Genetic parameter estimates and goodness-of-fit measures were compared.
RESULTS: Genetic correlations between regions as low as 0.80 or even lower were found for production traits, which reflect strong G×E interactions within South Africa that can be linked to the production systems (pasture vs total mixed ration). A random regression model including average rainfall during several decades in the herd surroundings gave the best goodness-of-fit for production traits. This can be related to a preference for total mixed ration on farms with limited rainfall. For age at first calving, the best model was based on a random regression on maximum relative humidity and maximum temperature in summer.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that G×E interactions can be accounted for when genetic evaluations of production traits are performed in South Africa, by either considering production records in different regions as different correlated traits or using a reaction norm model based on herd management characteristics. From a statistical point of view, climatic variables such as average rainfall over a long period can be included in a random regression model as proxies of herd production systems and climate.