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Identification of QTLs for behavioral reactivity to social separation and humans in sheep using the OvineSNP50 BeadChip

By Dominique Hazard, Carole Moreno, Didier Foulquié, Eric Delval, Dominique François, Jacques Bouix, Guillaume Sallé, Alain Boissy

Category Journal Articles


Current trends in sheep farming practices rely on animals with a greater level of behavioral autonomy than before, a phenotype that actively contributes to the sustainability of animal production. Social reactivity and reactivity to humans are relevant behavioral traits in sheep, known for their strong gregariousness and weak tolerance to handling, which have previously been reported with moderate to high heritabilities. To identify loci underlying such behaviors, we performed a genome study in Romane lambs.


The experiment was carried out on 934 male and female lambs allocated into 9 half-sib families (average of 103 lambs per family) and reared outside. After weaning, all the lambs were individually exposed to 4 standardized behavioral tests combining social isolation, exposure to humans or handling, confinement and novelty (i.e. arena test, corridor test, isolation box test, shearing test). A broad range of behaviors including vocalizations, locomotion, vigilance and flight distance, as well as the cortisol response to handling, were collected. All lambs were genotyped using the Illumina OvineSNP50 BeadChip. QTL detection was performed by linkage, association and joint linkage and association analyses using the QTLmap software. Five main QTL regions were identified on sheep chromosomes (Ovis Aries Region, OAR) 12, 16, 19, 21 and 23 among many other QTLs with small to moderate effects. The QTLs on OAR12, 16 and 21 showed significant associations with social reactivity. The QTLs on OAR19 and 23 were found to be associated with reactivity to humans. No overlapping QTLs were identified for the different traits measured in the behavioral tests, supporting the hypothesis that different genetic factors influence social reactivity and tolerance to humans.


The results of this study using ovine SNP data suggest that in domestic sheep the behavioral responses to social separation and exposure to humans are under polygenic influence. The most relevant QTLs reported in the present study contain interesting candidate genes previously described to be associated with various emotional and social behaviors in mammals.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2014
Publication Title BMC Genomics
Volume 15
Pages 18
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Behavioral research
  4. Cortisol
  5. Farm animals
  6. open access
  7. quantitative traits
  8. Sheep
  1. open access