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This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 95 No. 4, p. 1780-1787
    Received: Aug 28, 2016
    Accepted: Nov 29, 2016
    Published: April 13, 2017

    3 Corresponding author(s):


BREEDING AND GENETICS SYMPOSIUM: Resilience and lessons from studies in genetics of heat stress12

  1. I. Misztal 3a
  1. a Department of Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia, Athens 30602


Production environments are expected to change, mostly to a hotter climate but also possibly more extreme and drier. Can the current generation of farm animals cope with the changes or should it be specifically selected for changing conditions? In general, genetic selection produces animals with a smaller environmental footprint but also with smaller environmental flexibility. Some answers are coming from heat-stress research across species, with heat tolerance partly understood as a greater environmental flexibility. Specific studies in various species show the complexities of defining and selecting for heat tolerance. In Holsteins, the genetic component for effect of heat stress on production approximately doubles in second and quadruples in third parity. Cows with elevated body temperature have the greatest production under heat stress but probably are at risk for increased mortality. In hot but less intensive environments, the effect of heat stress on production is minimal, although the negative effect on fertility remains. Mortality peaks under heat stress and increases with parity. In Angus, the effect of heat stress is stronger only in selected regions, probably because of adaptation of calving seasons to local conditions and crossbreeding. Genetically, the direct effect shows variability because of heat stress, but the maternal effect does not, probably because dams shield calves from environmental challenges. In pigs, the effect of heat stress is strong for commercial farms but almost nothing for nucleus farms, which have lower pig density and better heat abatement. Under intensive management, heat stress is less evident in drier environments because of more efficient cooling. A genetic component of heat stress exists, but it is partly masked by improving management and selection based on data from elite farms. Genetic selection may provide superior identification of heat-tolerant animals, but a few cycles may be needed for clear results. Also, simple traits exist that are strongly related to heat stress (e.g., slick hair in dairy cattle and shedding intensity in Angus). Defining resilience may be difficult, especially when masked by improving environment. Under climate change, the current selection strategies may be adequate if they 1) are accompanied by constantly improving management, 2) use commercial data, and 3) include traits important under climate change (e.g., mortality).

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