Research Articles

Comparative population genetics of the German shepherd dog in South Africa

N. J. Coutts, E. H. Harley
South African Journal of Science | Vol 105, No 3/4 | a65 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajs.v105i3/4.65 | © 2010 N. J. Coutts, E. H. Harley | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 January 2010 | Published: 19 January 2010

About the author(s)

N. J. Coutts, Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa. Present address: Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa., South Africa
E. H. Harley, Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa., South Africa

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Abstract

Modern breeding practices strive to achieve distinctive phenotypic uniformity in breeds of dogs, but these strategies are associated with the inevitable loss of genetic diversity. Thus, in parallel with the morphological variation displayed by breeds, purebred dogs commonly express genetic defects as a result of the inbreeding associated with artificial selection and the reduction of selection against disease phenotypes. Microsatellite marker analyses of 15 polymorphic canine loci were used to investigate measures of genetic diversity and population differentiation within and between German-bred and South African-bred German shepherd dogs. These data were quantified by comparison with typically outbred mongrel or crossbred dogs. Both the imported and locally-bred German shepherd dogs exhibited similar levels of genetic diversity. The breed is characterised by only a moderate loss of genetic diversity relative to outbred dogs, despite originating from a single founding sire and experiencing extensive levels of inbreeding throughout the history of the breed. Non-significant population differentiation between the ancestral German and derived South African populations indicates sufficient contemporary gene flow between these populations, suggesting that migration resulting from the importation of breeding stock has mitigated the effects of random genetic drift and a population bottleneck caused by the original founder event in South Africa. Significant differentiation between the combined German shepherd dog population and the outbred dogs illustrates the effects of selection and genetic drift on the breed since its establishment just over 100 years ago.

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