Genetics of male reproductive performance in White Leghorns
The ability to produce viable progeny is a complex trait, involving both male and female components. In poultry, mating ratios are usually 1 male to 6 to 12 females. Consequently, the impact of male reproductive failure is much greater than that for a female. In this study, the genetic determination of male reproductive performance, by natural mating and artificial insemination (AI), was evaluated. Semen quality was studied in 1,575 pre-selected (using a selection index of multiple egg production and quality traits) White Leghorn males of a single pure line from multiple generations. A subset of individuals with satisfactory semen quality (based on sperm count and motility) were further tested for subsequent fertility and hatchability. Genetic parameters for fertility (FER), hatch of fertile (HOF), hatch of set (HOS), sperm motility (SM), sperm count (SC), and fertility using AI (FER-AI) were estimated using single- and multi-trait animal models, with generation as fixed effect. Selected birds were genotyped using the 600K Affymetrix SNP chip. Genomic data were analyzed with the BayesB method. FER, HOS, and HOF were highly correlated, both genetically (0.82 to 0.99) and phenotypically (0.28 to 0.99), but genetic correlations with semen quality traits were not strong (0.05 to 0.43) and phenotypic correlations varied between generations (–0.13 to 0.14). Birds used for fertility and hatchability tests were pre-selected based on SM and SC, which could contribute to the lack of strong correlations between these traits (due to truncation of the distribution). Based on pedigree information, low to moderate heritabilities were estimated for reproductive traits (0.08 to 0.21). Markers explained a low proportion of phenotypic variance (0.04 to 0.15), probably due to stringent selection of genotyped individuals and the limited training set size. No genes with large effects were identified. Genomic estimated breeding values were more accurate than pedigree-based estimates but only for HOF and FERT-AI. Despite low estimates of accuracy in validation, genetic trends were positive for all analyzed traits. In conclusion, continued long-term selection can result in genetic improvement of reproductive performance of roosters.