Reproductive robustness differs between generalist and specialist maternal rabbit lines: the role of acquisition and allocation of resources

Autores UPV


Background: Farm animals are normally selected under highly controlled, non-limiting conditions to favour the expression of their genetic potential. Selection strategies can also focus on a single trait to favour the most ¿specialized¿ animals. Theoretically, if the environment provides enough resources, the selection strategy should not lead to changes in the interactions between life functions such as reproduction and survival. However, highly ¿specialized¿ farm animals can be required for breeding under conditions that differ largely from selection conditions. The consequence is a degraded ability of ¿specialized¿ animals to sustain reproduction, production and health, which leads to a reduced lifespan. This study was designed to address this issue using maternal rabbit lines. A highly specialized line with respect to numerical productivity at weaning (called V) and a generalist line that originated from females with a long reproductive life (called LP) were used to study the strategies that these lines develop to acquire and use the available resources when housed in different environments. In addition, two generations of line V, generations 16 and 36, were available simultaneously, which contributed to better understand how selection criteria applied in a specific environment changed the interplay between functions related to reproduction and survival. Results: We show that, under constrained conditions, line LP has a greater capacity for resource acquisition than line V, which prevents excessive mobilization of body reserves. However, 20 generations of selection for litter size at weaning did not lead to an increased capacity of nutrient (or resource) acquisition. For the two generations of line V, the partitioning of resources between milk production, body reserves preservation or repletion or foetal growth differed. Conclusions: Combining foundational and selection criteria with a specific selection environment resulted in female rabbits that had a different capacity to deal with environmental constraints. An increased robustness was considered as an emergent property of combining a multiple trait foundational criterion with a wide range of environmental conditions. Since such a strategy was successful to increase the robustness of female rabbits without impairing their productivity, there is no reason that it should not be applied in other livestock species.