Prioritization based on neutral genetic diversity may fail to conserve important characteristics in cattle breeds.
ABSTRACT Conservation of the intraspecific genetic diversity of livestock species requires protocols that assess between-breed genetic variability and also take into account differences among individuals within breeds. Here, we focus on variation between breeds. Conservation of neutral genetic variation has been seen as promoting, through linkage processes, the retention of useful and potentially useful variation. Using public information on beef cattle breeds, with a total of 165 data sets each relating to a breed comparison of a performance variable, we have tested this paradigm by calculating the correlations between pairwise breed differences in performance and pairwise genetic distances deduced from biochemical and immunological polymorphisms, microsatellites and single-nucleotide polymorphisms. As already observed in floral and faunal biodiversity, significant positive correlations (n=54) were found, but many correlations were non-significant (n=100) or significantly negative (n=11). This implies that maximizing conserved neutral genetic variation with current techniques may conserve breed-level genetic variation in some traits but not in others and supports the view that genetic distance measurements based on neutral genetic variation are not sufficient as a determinant of conservation priority among breeds.