Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists shine spotlight on Herdwick sheep origins

Date:
January 29, 2014
Source:
University of York
Summary:
A new study highlights surprising differences between Herdwick sheep and their closest neighboring UK upland breeds. The research is the first of its kind to compare the genetics of three commercially farmed breeds all concentrated in the same geographical region of the UK.

A Herwick Sheep. Local Cumbrian folklore speaks of connections between the Herdwicks and Viking settlers. The coming together of the genetic evidence with historical evidence of Viking raiders and traders in the Wadden islands and adjacent coastal regions, suggests the folklore is right but extends the connection to Rough Fells.
Credit: University of York

A new study highlights surprising differences between Herdwick sheep and their closest neighbouring UK upland breeds. The research, led by The Sheep Trust, a national charity based at the University of York, is the first of its kind to compare the genetics of three commercially farmed breeds all concentrated in the same geographical region of the UK.

Scientists worked with hill farmers to explore the genetic structures of Herdwicks, Rough Fells and Dalesbred, breeds locally adapted to the harsh conditions of mountains and moorlands.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, discovered that Herdwicks contained features of a 'primitive genome', found previously in very few breeds worldwide and none that have been studied in the UK mainland. The data suggest that Herdwicks may originate from a common ancestral founder flock to breeds currently living in Sweden and Finland, and the northern islands of Orkney and Iceland.

Herdwicks and Rough Fell sheep both showed rare genetic evidence of a historical link to the ancestral population of sheep on Texel, one of the islands in the Wadden Sea Region of northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Local Cumbrian folklore speaks of connections between the Herdwicks and Viking settlers. The coming together of the genetic evidence with historical evidence of Viking raiders and traders in the Wadden islands and adjacent coastal regions, suggests the folklore is right but extends the connection to Rough Fells.

One outcome of the scientific study united the three hill breeds. The Herdwick, Rough Fell and Dalesbred each showed a lower than average risk of infection to Maidi Visna, a virus causing a slow-acting disease affecting millions of sheep worldwide with massive welfare and economic impacts. These new data provide evidence to support suggestions that the native hill breeds are less susceptible to the virus.

Mainstream agriculture is looking to locally adapted breeds of livestock to increase resilience to new pressures from climate change and the need to protect food security but at lower cost. The study demonstrates the potential these breeds offer in providing novel genetic traits that may help sheep farming in the future.

Professor Dianna Bowles, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biology at York and Chair of The Sheep Trust, led the study.

She said: "This is an important start to show policy makers just how important the genetics of these breeds may be. Currently the sheep are farmed in large numbers and it is essential we take steps to ensure a commercial future for them, since they have the traits and adaptations to harsh conditions that agriculture might well need in years to come. If the breeds are lost we lose forever the opportunities offered by this crucial biodiversity."

Amanda Carson, a vet and Secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association, added: "We all hope the results will help to convince Government of the importance of the genetic distinctiveness of these breeds. They enable low input farming and food production on land unsuitable for other forms of agriculture. They are a tremendous asset and we should look after and promote their farming for future national food security."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dianna Bowles, Amanda Carson, Peter Isaac. Genetic Distinctiveness of the Herdwick Sheep Breed and Two Other Locally Adapted Hill Breeds of the UK. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e87823 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087823

Cite This Page:

University of York. "Scientists shine spotlight on Herdwick sheep origins." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129184656.htm>.
University of York. (2014, January 29). Scientists shine spotlight on Herdwick sheep origins. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129184656.htm
University of York. "Scientists shine spotlight on Herdwick sheep origins." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129184656.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A study released Monday suggests dolphins might be able to sense the Earth's magnetic field and possibly use it as a means of navigation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Battle Stink Bug Season

How To Battle Stink Bug Season

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) Homeowners in 33 states grapple with stink bugs moving indoors at this time of year. Here are a few tips to avoid stink bug infestations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins