Symposium review: genomic selection for reducing environmental impact and adapting to climate change Academic Article uri icon


  • The world has been warming as greenhouse gases accumulate. Worldwide from 1880 to 2012, the average surface temperature has increased by about 0.85°C and by 0.12°C per decade since 1951. The world's cattle population is a contributor to atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in addition to suffering from high temperatures combined with humidity. This makes research into reducing the global footprint of dairy cows of importance on a long-term horizon, while improving tolerance to heat could alleviate the effects of rising temperatures. In December 2017, genomic estimated breeding values for heat tolerance in dairy cattle were released for the first time in Australia. Currently, heat tolerance is not included in the Balanced Performance Index (Australia's national selection index), and the correlation between heat tolerance breeding values and Balanced Performance Index is -0.20, so over time, heat tolerance has worsened due to lack of selection pressure. However, in contrast, sizable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have been achieved as a favorable response to selecting for increased productivity, longevity, and efficiency, with opportunities for even greater gains through selecting for cow emissions directly. Internationally considerable research effort has been made to develop breeding values focused on reducing methane emissions using individual cow phenotypes. This requires (1) definition of breeding objectives and selection criteria and (2) assembling a sufficiently large data set for genomic prediction. Selecting for heat tolerance and reduced emissions directly may improve resilience to changing environments while reducing environmental impact.

publication date

  • 2020