Ecology and evolution2020; 10(3); 1352-1367; doi: 10.1002/ece3.5989

Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: The maternal and paternal history of native ponies.

Abstract: The UK and Ireland have many native pony breeds with historical and cultural importance as well as being a source of uncharacterized genetic diversity. However, there is a lack of comprehensive research investigating their genetic diversity and phylogenetic interrelationships. Many studies contain a limited number of pony breeds or small sample sizes for these breeds. This may result in erroneous grouping of pony breeds that otherwise have intricate interrelationships with each other and are not evaluated correctly when placed as a token subset of a larger dataset. This is the first study that specifically investigates the genetic diversity within and between British and Irish native pony breeds using large sample numbers from locations of their native origin. This study used a panel of microsatellite markers and sequence analysis of the mitochondrial control region to analyze the genetic diversity within and between 11 pony breeds from Britain and Ireland. A large dataset was collected (a total of 485 animals were used for mtDNA analysis and 450 for microsatellite analysis), and previously published data were used to place the British and Irish ponies in a global context. The native ponies of Britain and Ireland were found to have had a complex history, and the interrelationships between the breeds were revealed. Overall, high levels of genetic diversity were maintained in native breeds, although some reduction was evident in small or isolated populations (Shetland, Carneddau, and Section C). Unusual mitochondrial diversity distribution patterns were apparent for the Carneddau and Dartmoor, although among breeds and global haplogroups there was a high degree of haplotype sharing evident, well-represented within British and Irish ponies. Ancestral maternal diversity was maintained by most populations, particularly the Fells and Welsh ponies, which exhibited rare and ancient lineages. The maternal and paternal histories of the breeds are distinct, with male-biased crossings between native breeds, and other shared influences, likely Arabs and Thoroughbreds, are apparent. The data generated herein provide valuable information to guide and implement the conservation of increasingly rare native genetic resources.
Publication Date: 2020-01-27 PubMed ID: 32076519PubMed Central: PMC7029099DOI: 10.1002/ece3.5989Google Scholar: Lookup
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The research article focuses on analyzing the genetic diversity within and among British and Irish native pony breeds. The study, the first of its kind to look at large sample numbers gathered from the ponies’ native origin, aimed to uncover the intricate interrelationships among these breeds. The researchers discovered high levels of genetic diversity among the breeds, complex breed history, and distinct maternal and paternal lineages that have affected the breeds’ current genetic makeup.

Objective of the Research

  • The main objective of this research study was to investigate the genetic diversity within and between British and Irish native pony breeds. Previous studies were limited by the number of breeds or the sample sizes they used, often resulting in misclassification or misunderstanding of the interrelationships among different breeds. This research sought to fill this gap by collecting large amounts of data from the ponies’ native origins and thereafter analyzing it to gain a deeper understanding of these specific breeds.

Methodology Used

  • The researchers used a panel of microsatellite markers and sequence analysis of the mitochondrial control region to examine a total of 485 animals for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis and 450 animals for microsatellite analysis.
  • This mixed methods approach facilitated an in-depth understanding of the breeds’ genetic structures and lineage.

Findings of the Research

  • This study found high levels of genetic diversity within native breeds, although some reduction was apparent in small or isolated populations such as Shetland, Carneddau, and Section C ponies.
  • Complex breed history and intricate interrelationships among the native pony breeds were discovered. These interrelationships revealed shared and distinct ancestral maternal and paternal lineage, one of the major findings of this research. Historically, male-biased crossings between native breeds and other shared influences, likely Arabs and Thoroughbreds, shaped these breeds’ genetic diversity.
  • An unusual mitochondrial diversity distribution was apparent for the Carneddau and Dartmoor breeds. However, there was a high degree of haplotype sharing among all breeds and global haplogroups.
  • The study also highlighted the preservation of ancestral maternal diversity, particularly in the Fells and Welsh ponies, which exhibited rare and ancient lineages.

Implications of the Research

  • The data collected and analyzed in this study provide valuable information that can guide the conservation of increasingly rare native genetic resources. This could entail the implementation of specific breeding programs aimed at maintaining genetic diversity and ancient lineage within the studied breeds.

Cite This Article

Winton CL, McMahon R, Hegarty MJ, McEwan NR, Davies-Morel MCG, Morgan C, Nash DM. (2020). Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: The maternal and paternal history of native ponies. Ecol Evol, 10(3), 1352-1367.


ISSN: 2045-7758
NlmUniqueID: 101566408
Country: England
Language: English
Volume: 10
Issue: 3
Pages: 1352-1367

Researcher Affiliations

Winton, Clare L
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
McMahon, Robert
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
  • Molecular Haematology Haematology Laboratory Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK.
Hegarty, Matthew J
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
McEwan, Neil R
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
  • School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences Robert Gordon University Aberdeen UK.
Davies-Morel, Mina C G
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
Morgan, Charly
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.
Nash, Deborah M
  • Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth UK.

Conflict of Interest Statement

There are no conflicts of interest between authors, and permission from each author has been granted. No other institutions hold copyright over this work.


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