- Research article
- Open Access
Revealing fine scale subpopulation structure in the Vietnamese H'mong cattle breed for conservation purposes
© Berthouly et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 27 August 2009
Accepted: 7 June 2010
Published: 7 June 2010
During the last decades, there has been an acceleration of the loss of domestic animal biodiversity. For conservation purposes, the genetic diversity of the H'Mong cattle, an indigenous local breed was studied. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) of the SRY gene and mtDNA D-Loop sequence were analysed to clarify the origin of the breed. The genetic diversity was assessed through genetic data with twenty-five FAO microsatellites, and morphometric data with five body measurements from 408 animals sampled from eight districts of the Ha Giang province.
The SRY genes were all of the zebu type. Among the 27 mtDNA haplotypes, 12 haplotypes were of the taurine type and the remaining 15 of the zebu type. This indicates female taurine introgression in the zebu H'Mong. The observed and expected heterozygosity ranged from 0.616 to 0.673 and from 0.681 to 0.729 respectively according to district, with low genetic differentiation (FST = 0.0076). Multivariate analysis on morphometric and genetic data shows a separation of districts into two groups following a south-west/north-east cline and admixture analysis confirmed the two clusters, but no differentiation of taurine introgression between clusters was observed. A possible admixture with the Yellow cattle breed from a neighbouring province was suggested through genetic data and householder interviews.
In this study we demonstrate the interest of fine-scale sampling for the study of genetic structure of local breeds. Such a study allows avoiding erroneous conservation policies and on the contrary, proposes measures for conserving and limiting crossbreeding between the H'Mong and the Yellow cattle breeds.
A total of 990 cattle breeds have been reported throughout the world, and 897 are classified as local or indigenous breeds and 93 as transboundary breeds. Among the 258 breeds reported in Asia, 11% are classified at risk, 51% are not in danger, whereas the status of the remaining breeds (38%) is unknown (Scherf ). Asian cattle can be subdivided into humped and humpless cattle. The humped zebu breeds are more prevalent in southern regions of Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan. Humpless taurine cattle are found across most of the Asian continent in the northern regions. Chinese cattle are subdivided into three groups: the Turano-Mongolian type above the Yellow river, which is of the taurine type, the Changzhu type below the Yangtze River which is of the zebu type, and a third type in the intermediary central area of Huanghuai which is a hybrid of taurine and zebu breeds.
In Vietnam, 22 cattle breeds are currently present including 4 breeds identified as local breeds : the Bo U Dau Riu in the southeastern area of Hanoï; 2) the Bo Vang (Yellow cattle) in the western and southern provinces around Hanoï; 3) the Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta; and 4) the H'mong breed in the northern provinces bordering China and more specifically in the Ha Giang province.
Little information on breed description has been generated. Almost all Vietnamese breeds have a uniform coat colour varying to yellow from red froment, except for the H'mong breed for which black colour is also common. Also, the shape of the hump has been used in Vietnam as a criterion for breed differentiation. According to the "Atlas of Vietnamese Breeds" , the Yellow cattle breed seems to have a "hump like Indian type in opposition to the Chinese type" and in this breed the hump is also smaller. The Bo U Dau Riu (U meaning Hump) is named such because of its specific black and yellow hump. The H'mong breed, besides being the only breed with a black coat, has a Chinese cattle type hump which is also less developed and sloping down in the front.
This breed also has the singularity to be linked with a specific ethnic group: the H'mong people.
The H'Mong people originate from the Huanghuai area in China, they first entered Vietnam by the Ha Giang province and continued their migration south through Thailand, mixing their cattle breeds with local ones.
No genetic information is known about this breed, but considering its origin probably in southern China and the genetic studies on Chinese breeds [3, 4], H'Mong cattle is assumed to be of the taurine-zebu hybrid type. This breed is raised in a province with a sharp variation in altitude subdivided into many valleys. As a consequence, travelling from village to village is very difficult and can mainly only be done by walking. In addition, the H'Mong ethnic group used to live in regions located 1000 meters above sea level or higher, which made them semi-isolated and disrupted the distribution of cattle limiting them to the two mountainous areas of the province. As agropastoralists, H'Mong householders raise cattle for draught power in a free-foraging way without any selection or breeding management. Geographical characteristics and farming practices may have structured the cattle population. Assessing its genetic status is all the more important to design rational breeding strategies for its sustainable management.
The aims of this study were the following: (1) to confirm the taxonomic hybrid status of this breed using mtDNA sequences, the SRY gene and microsatellites; (2) and to analyse the genetic structure of the H'Mong cattle breed through phenotypes and genotypes in combination with a fine-scale survey. Management practices were also studied to ascertain the relevance of the biological results.
Householders were questioned about their knowledge of the pedigree of each animal and their origin. Eight categories of origin were considered: Farm; Village; Commune; District; District Market; Other district; Outside the Province; Project (many poverty alleviation projects have given cattle to householders with no information about their origin).
Genomic DNA was extracted from tissue samples using the QIAamp Kit from QIAGEN.
Genotyping of SNP at position 641 of the SRY gene following Kikkawa et al. was conducted by pyrosequencing (see Addtional File 1). The 145 bulls from Ha Giang were analysed jointly with the Gascon taurine (3) and Arab zebu breed (3) from Chad, which were used as controls.
The complete mtDNA D-loop region was amplified according to Loftus et al. from 123 H'Mong cattle (see supplementary data). Sequences from GenBank from 23 breeds were used and organised into four groups: the European taurine, Chinese taurine, Chinese zebu and Chinese admixed group (Additional File 3). Reference mitochondrion sequences for Bos taurus (GenBank accession number AF492351; green ellipse, ) and Bos indicus (GenBank accession number AF492350; red ellipse, ) were included as controls in the analysis. The cattle mtDNA newly sequenced in this study have been deposited in GenBank under accession numbers FJ800840-FJ800962.
Summary of breeds and Ha Giang district populations and their polymorphism measures.
Chinese Yanbian breed (CYC)a
Japanese Black (JAB)a
Within Ha Giang province
for 25 markers
All animals genotyped were adults. Five measurements were taken for each animal: thorax depth, height at withers (HW), body length (BL), heart girth (HG) and ear length (EL). These measures were combined into 4 indexes: the index of slenderness IGs according to Lauvergne & Souvenir Zafindrajaona , the body length index I BL = BL/HW, the heart girth index I HG = HG/HW and the Ear index I EL = EL/HW.
Molecular diversity, within and between populations
Haplotype and nucleotide diversity and minimum spanning network were computed using Arlequin 3.1 . We constructed an unrooted neighbor-joining (NJ) tree of all sequences under the Tajima & Nei model using MEGA 4.1 software .
The presence of null alleles was tested using FreeNA : loci with estimated frequencies of null alleles r = 0.2 were considered to be potentially problematic for calculations. For the H'Mong population, districts were considered as sampling units for performing preliminary estimations of genetic polymorphism. Genetic polymorphism measures were calculated using GENETIX 4.4 . The GENEPOP software  was used to compute F-statistics and the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium test . Test significance was corrected with sequential Bonferroni correction on loci.
The matrix of Reynolds unweighted distances DR  was computed. Regarding the DR distances, a Neighbor-Joining tree was established with 1000 bootstraps on the loci. A DR matrix and Neighbor-Joining tree were computed using POPULATION v.1.2.28 (Olivier Langella; available at http://bioinformatics.org/project/?group_id=84)
We calculated the contributions (c i ) of each population, which could maximise the total diversity at the next generation as proposed by Caballero & Toro .
We investigated the genetic structure and individual assignments using a Bayesian clustering procedure implemented in STRUCTURE , with the admixture model and correlated allele frequency  and 15 runs for K = 1-10, with 106 iterations following a burn-in period of 300,000. The values for the number of clusters (K) were assessed according to Evanno et al. by the (D.ΔK) criterion. The programme estimates the posterior distribution (q) of each individual's admixture coefficient. The grid map of the admixture coefficient q was constructed using MAPINFO®.
Morphological data were analysed using single trait linear hierarchical mixed models with the SAS® software (see Berthouly et al.). A linear discriminant analysis was used on the whole set of markers and measurements. Since this set contains a combination of quantitative and qualitative variables, we used an approach similar to that of Hill & Smith . This approach is a combination of an internal correspondence analysis on markers (Cazes et al.; Laloë et al.) and of a principal component analysis on quantitative measures. This approach allows using a variable set and comparing the contribution of morphometry and genetics for the differentiation of populations. This approach is based on functions available in the ade4 package (Chessel et al.; Dray & Dufour ) of the R software (R development core team ). For this analysis, we removed samples from the QBn district because of the low number of samples (9) compared to other districts.
From the SRY gene, all the bulls had the T base at the 641 position. This indicates that they all have a Y chromosome of B. indicus origin.
We obtained sequences of 825 bp of the mtDNA D-loop from 123 H'mong cattle, resulting in 27 haplotypes. A total of 53 polymorphic sites were observed involving 49 transitions and 5 transversions.
Within the Ha Giang cattle dataset, no loci had r values higher than 0.2, therefore it was assumed that null alleles would not significantly bias the genetic estimates. A total of 195 alleles were detected. The observed heterozygosity per locus averaged 0.643 and ranged from 0.293 for locus HEL1 to 0.821 for locus HAUT27 (Additional File 4). According to the multiloci F ST , only 1.16% of the total genetic variability was explained by subdivision of populations among districts.
Genetic relationships among breeds
The H'Mong cattle population
Within and between district diversity
There were, on average, 3.3 effective alleles per district (Table 1). The observed and expected heterozygosity averaged over all loci ranged from 0.616 to 0.673 and from 0.681 to 0.729 respectively. The average F IS in the Ha Giang province reached 0.092. Except for the QBn district, all district populations had more than two loci in heterozygote deficiency, and the maximum value of 6 loci deviated from HWE was reached for the QB district. The average molecular coancestry fm ranged from 0.214 in the QB district to 0.285 for the BM district corresponding to coancestry between full-sibs. According to the Caballero & Toro  procedure, a synthetic population that would maximise genetic diversity within the Ha Giang population would be composed of 70% of cattle from the QB district, followed by 27% from the YM district and the 3% remaining coming from the HSP district.
Morphometry and Multivariate analysis among district populations
Mean body traits between districts are summarised in Additional File 5. There were significant differences between males and females for all measures except for EL and I BL . Altitude had an effect on HG and I BL (data not shown). Pair-wise comparison between districts shows that only HW was significantly different after Bonferroni correction (p-value < 0.005). Cattle from the MV district were significantly smaller than cattle from the three western districts: HSP, XM and QB (p-value < 0.003). The smallest HG values were observed in the MV district for both sexes (134.2 cm; 142.4 cm) whereas the biggest females were observed in the XM district (144.0 cm) and males in the YM district (155.0 cm).
Subpopulation structure and gene flow
The comparison of morphometric traits assuming the two Bayesian genetic clusters shows that cattle from the southwest cluster (HSP, XM and QB) were about 5 cm significantly taller than cattle from the northeast cluster (Additional File 7).
AMOVA analysis using the mtDNA sequence, shows that only 0.003 of diversity occurred between clusters. The taurine and zebu haplotypes were found in both clusters (Additional file 8). No significant difference in taurine mtDNA admixture was observed between both clusters (Chi2 test; p = 0.385).
A total of 814 pedigree-origin interviews were done and the percentages of answers per category are summarised in Additional File 9. Householders from all but three communes kept and reproduced animals on their own farm, without reproduction management, with rates ranging from 2.2% to 46.7% in Family category. Exchanges occurred mostly within the commune but also with bordering communes. Nevertheless, in MV and DV districts, where two important cattle markets are held, the percentages of animals bought at district markets ranged from 3.1% to 64%. In commune 179 from the QBn district, nearly 67% of cattle were given by a development project (Additional File 9). This also happened but at a lower degree in communes 113 and 89 from the BM district. The BM district was also the one with the most important rate of cattle coming from outside the province (6.5% - 23.2%).
The H'Mong breed has yellow, red or black coat colour and a cervico-thoracic or thoracic hump . Thus it seems to belong to the zebu group, but current zebu-like (i.e. humped) breeds are often the result of admixture between B. indicus and B. taurus, such as the Yunnan Yellow cattle or the Nayang Chinese breeds  even in the southeast and east Asian areas . According to Cai et al., cattle from south China have Y chromosomes of the zebu type while Lei et al. found both taurine and zebu mtDNA, within the majority of the sampled breeds, suggesting maternal introgression of the taurine cattle. Similar results were obtained for the Ha Giang cattle population. The zebu-taurine introgression was also confirmed by the central position of the H'Mong population between both taurine and zebu clades in the NJ tree obtained using microsatellites.
Within the Ha Giang province, both subpopulations show similar rates of Taurine introgression. These results, and the pattern of taurine mtDNA distribution, allow us to assume that the hybridisation process preceded the genetic structuring into two subpopulations. Migratory records of the H'mong people and their livestock are in agreement with our results .
Within the H'Mong cattle population of the Ha Giang province, the multivariate procedure enlightens a southwest/northeast cline confirmed by the Bayesian approach. This genetic structure might result from two factors: (1) a geographic isolation with two mountainous areas. The two mountainous areas in the North (DV, MV, YM, QB districts) and in the South (XM, HSP districts) are separated by flatlands where no cattle are raised; (2) different origins of gene flow (neighbouring provinces, important cattle markets) are suggested from interview information. Indeed, 73.5% of the population from the Bac-Me district had a probability of more than 0.8 to belong to cluster 2. According to pedigree interviews, cattle from the three communes of the Bac-Me district were partly bought in from another province, and more specifically in the Cao Bang province where there is an important cattle market. The cattle population from the Cao Bang province is considered to belong to the Vietnamese Yellow Cattle breed , which is of small size and is mainly used for meat production. This was in agreement with the observed body measurements showing that Bac-Me cattle are one of the smallest cattle breeds in the Ha Giang province. Therefore, the Bac-Me district could be an important area of introgression of the Yellow cattle breed into the H'Mong cattle population within the Ha Giang province. In the Meo-Vac and Dong-Vang districts, weekly cattle markets occur. Householders from these districts are used to buying their herds from the district market. The Meo-Vac cattle market is considered to be the most important market in the province, and trucks coming from other provinces can reach it. In fact, the main road comes from the Cao Bang province. Therefore, despite a lack of accurate information on the extent of importation of cattle from Cao Bang in the Meo-Vac market, our genetic and morphometric results are in favour of the assumption of admixture between the H'Mong and Yellow cattle. Thus, market practices have acted as a melting pot leading to a mean admixture coefficient lower (0.72) than that in the Bac-Me district (0.82).
In the southwestern districts such as Quan-Ba, Quang-Binh, Hoan Su Phi and Xin-Man, no large cattle market is established. Householders preferentially buy animals in the village or in the commune market. Thus admixture is lower and districts belong to cluster 1 with a mean probability higher than 0.6. However, 75% of the cattle from commune 179 belong to cluster 2 and none to cluster 1 with a probability higher than 0.8. Interviews on the origins show that 66.7% of cattle were given by a Development Project which bought them in the northeastern districts. Such information was in accordance with our observations of admixture rate.
As pointed out by Taberlet et al., domestic species could be considered as endangered from a genetic point of view. It is then important to take measures that promote management of the animal genetic resources. Many studies have evaluated conservation policies and prioritisation of breeds compared within each other [35–37]. The purposes and ways of in situ conservation programmes for farm animals are multi-fold (see, for example, FAO ) and generally include (1) providing a clear view of the status of the breed, through census of animals and survey of farmers, (2) minimising the rate of inbreeding, through practices such as rotational breeding, and (3) providing economic conditions for the development of the breed. If the population size is large enough and if the amount of within-population genetic variability is not critical, then, in addition, a weak selection could be practised in order to improve some traits of interest. The H'Mong cattle seems to be taller than the Yellow cattle breed, with height values ranging from 104 to 110.5 cm in males and from 102 to 104 cm in females . The H'Mong cattle are smaller than the Chau Doc breed (128 cm for males and 104 cm for females) but of the same size of the Ba Ria and Lai Sin breeds that have been crossbred with the Red Sindhi breed from India . Also within the province, HW and I BL contributed in a significant way to the district population's differentiation. It seems that householders from the Ha Giang province prefer taller cattle with compact body size for draught power in the rocky mountains than householders from less mountainous provinces like Cao Bang. This kind of consideration about the required morphology of draft cattle was reported in another tropical country, namely Kenya . Therefore, breeding programmes could focus on increasing the size of the animals, but also need to manage genetic diversity. Genetic diversity of the H'Mong cattle population was found to be on the range reported in the Roslin database. According to Caballero & Toro , coancestry is useful to estimate the contribution of each population in order to create a pool of sires. Cattle from the Quan-Ba district should contribute to 70% and the Yen-Minh cattle population to 27%. By conserving such a cattle population, one would be able to conserve a "snapshot" of the genetic diversity from the current H'Mong cattle population. However, if the conservation programme objective is to specifically conserve the original H'Mong breed, it would be interesting to compare this local population with cattle populations from bordering provinces. This would allow to better quantify the gene flow from the Yellow cattle to the H'Mong cattle and thus to delineate populations with the lower influence of Yellow cattle genes.
One of the interests of our study was the very fine-scale spatial analysis across the area where the breed is raised. Surely it is interesting to study breed relationships. But studying local breeds requires a different approach than selected breeds which have very strict selection schemes. Establishing conservation policies on a local breed without knowing the exact genetic structure may not be very efficient. With fine-scale sampling, we were able to establish a fine-admixture grid of the Ha Giang province that will allow carefully selecting sires for the conservation project. Also, we show the usefulness of combining householder's interviews for (1) understanding the genetic patchwork and, (2) identifying which farming practices influence genetic structure. All this information linked together will allow establishing more sustainable management policies.
The authors wish to thank the DARD of the Ha Giang province for help on data collection, and Stéphane Robin, Liliane Bel and Renault Lancelot for their advice in statistical analysis. We thank Katayoun Moazami-Goudarzi and Mathieu Gautier from INRA for providing reference samples. This study was a part of the BIODIVA project and was jointly funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Institute of Animal Husbandry of Vietnam. The first author benefited from a grant from CIRAD and INRA. We thank Mrs Wendy Brand-Williams for linguistic revision.
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