How depressing is inbreeding? A meta-analysis of 30 years of research on the effects of inbreeding in livestock

Doekes, Harmen P.; Bijma, Piter; Windig, Jack J.


Inbreeding depression has been widely documented for livestock and other animal and plant populations. Inbreeding is generally expected to have a stronger unfavorable effect on fitness traits than on other traits. Traditionally, the degree of inbreeding depression in livestock has been estimated as the slope of the linear regression of phenotypic values on pedigree-based inbreeding coefficients. With the increasing availability of SNP-data, pedigree inbreeding can now be replaced by SNP-based measures. We performed a meta-analysis of 154 studies, published from 1990 to 2020 on seven livestock species, and compared the degree of inbreeding depression (1) across different trait groups, and (2) across different pedigree-based and SNP-based measures of inbreeding. Across all studies and traits, a 1% increase in pedigree inbreeding was associated with a median decrease in phenotypic value of 0.13% of a trait’s mean, or 0.59% of a trait’s standard deviation. Inbreeding had an unfavorable effect on all sorts of traits and there was no evidence for a stronger effect on primary fitness traits (e.g., reproduction/survival traits) than on other traits (e.g., production traits or morphological traits). p-values of inbreeding depression estimates were smaller for SNP-based inbreeding measures than for pedigree inbreeding, suggesting more power for SNP-based measures. There were no consistent differences in p-values for percentage of homozygous SNPs, inbreeding based on runs of homozygosity (ROH) or inbreeding based on a genomic relationship matrix. The number of studies that directly compares these different measures, however, is limited and comparisons are furthermore complicated by differences in scale and arbitrary definitions of particularly ROH-based inbreeding. To facilitate comparisons across studies in future, we provide the dataset with inbreeding depression estimates of 154 studies and stress the importance of always reporting detailed information (on traits, inbreeding coefficients, and models used) along with inbreeding depression estimates.