Italy’s population of about 500 Lusitano horses has good genetic variability, with a low level of inbreeding, researchers report.
Testing showed a level of genetic variability comparable with those found in Lusitano populations in other countries, Maria Cristina Cozzi and her fellow researchers reported in the journal Animals.
The Lusitano horse is a much-admired breed originating from Portugal, but is reared worldwide.
Since 1994, the University of Milan has tested Lusitano horses raised in Italy for parentage monitoring. Its Laboratory of Animal Genetics and Genomics holds blood specimens of all Lusitanos bred in Italy from 1994 to 2019 – that’s 433 horses in all.
Researchers at the university joined with scientists from the Alter Molecular Genetics Laboratory, part of the National Institute for Agrarian and Veterinary Research in Portugal, to test the genetic variability of Lusitano horses reared in Italy over more than four decades.
Horses were grouped according to their date of birth, in four bands from 1975 to 2019. Standard genetic diversity parameters were investigated in their DNA.
“The population recorded a good genetic variability with a low degree of inbreeding,” the study team reported.
Nevertheless, considering all the horses, related and unrelated, a small trend towards some decrease in genetic variability in the last 10 years was recorded. It was not strong enough to generate concern at the moment, the researchers said.
They noted that an increasing number of dams (156% more from 2001–2010 to 2011–2019) supported the good variability recorded in the population so far. However, the high number of foals (77.2%) sired by only four stallions in recent years suggests caution in the choice of the sires for the future.
In conclusion, they said the observed trend suggests the need for careful genetic management of the population in coming years, and more emphasis on the use of an increased number of different males as sires, they said.
In Italy, the Associazione Italiana Cavallo Puro Sangue Lusitano was established in 2010 to promote the breed and its selection. An agreement signed the same year provides for all Lusitano horses born in Italy to be entered in the Portuguese studbook following parentage verification.
Currently, about 500 Lusitanos are reared by 15 breeders in Italy. They are mainly trained as riding horses but are also used for other equestrian disciplines such as carriage driving, working equitation and dressage.
The study team comprised Cozzi, Paolo Valiati and Maria Longeri, all with the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Milan; and Carlos Ferreira and Sofia Abreu Ferreira, with the Alter Molecular Genetics Laboratory in Portugal.
Cozzi, M.C.; Valiati, P.; Longeri, M.; Ferreira, C.; Abreu Ferreira, S. Genetic Variability Trend of Lusitano Horse Breed Reared in Italy. Animals 2022, 12, 98. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12010098