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Genetic rescue of Norwegian Lundehund

Several wild animal populations have received individuals from closely related populations to increase the probability of survival of threatened populations. Genetic rescue contributes to the conservation of endangered populations both by increasing the number of individuals and the genetic variation for future selection.

KUVA2_Loppa_ja_pennut (500x305)

Cross-bred litter (Icelandic sheepdog x lundehund) photo: Sorun Lilja Ragnarsdottir.

An article published in the Finnish Kennel Club's magazine "Koiramme" (9/2016) describes the history, characteristics and challenges of the highly endangered lundehund population.

Several severe bottlenecks in the history of lundehund have resulted in a severe loss of genetic variability in the current lundehund population. Low fertility and high frequency predisposition to intestinal disorder IL (intestinal lymphangiectasia) imply inbreeding depression. The Norwegian Lundehund Club has initiated a cross-breeding project where three foreign breeds are introduced in the population.

The article describes the first experiences of the cross-breeding project and highlights the issues relevant for populations in similar situation:

  • When is the right time to pursue a genetic rescue via introduction of foreign breeds?
  • How should phenotypic characters with possible negative effects on animal welfare be evaluated, and how should they affect breeding decisions?

The article draws four main conclusions:

  1. Cross-breeding gives a second chance for populations which are likely to become extinct; albeit with a cost of changing the genetic and phenotypic expression of the breed. 
  2. Introduction of foreign breed(s) in reasonable time (relative to the amount of genetic variation and accumulation of genetic defects) allows us to reverse the detrimental development and rescue the population with fewer individuals introduced than if we wait until the genetic variation is fully depleted.
  3. Careful planning of cross-breeding followed by phenotypic selection enables the maintenance of the distinct characteristics of lundehund.
  4. Dog breeding programs should put more emphasis on the interaction between genetics, health and welfare both on the individual and population level.

Additional information about the cross-breeding program and updates of the cross-bred litters are available on the Lundehund Club website.

You can read the whole article (in Finnish) here.

Arkiv