1 Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics - Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Science and Technology, Aarhus University2 Department of Animal Science - Epidemiology and management, Department of Animal Science, Science and Technology, Aarhus University3 Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre, Wageningen University4 Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics - Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Science and Technology, Aarhus University5 Department of Animal Science - Epidemiology and management, Department of Animal Science, Science and Technology, Aarhus University
Background Since the recommendations on group housing of mink (Neovison vison) were adopted by the Council of Europe in 1999, it has become common in mink production in Europe. Group housing is advantageous from a production perspective, but can lead to aggression between animals and thus raises a welfare issue. Bite marks on the animals are an indicator of this aggressive behaviour and thus selection against frequency of bite marks should reduce aggression and improve animal welfare. Bite marks on one individual reflect the aggression of its group members, which means that the number of bite marks carried by one individual depends on the behaviour of other individuals and that it may have a genetic basis. Thus, for a successful breeding strategy it could be crucial to consider both direct (DGE) and indirect (IGE) genetic effects on this trait. However, to date no study has investigated the genetic basis of bite marks in mink. Result and discussion: A model that included DGE and IGE fitted the data significantly better than a model with DGE only, and IGE contributed a substantial proportion of the heritable variation available for response to selection. In the model with IGE, the total heritable variation expressed as the proportion of phenotypic variance (T2) was six times greater than classical heritability (h2). For instance, for total bite marks, T2 was equal to 0.61, while h2 was equal to 0.10. The genetic correlation between direct and indirect effects ranged from 0.55 for neck bite marks to 0.99 for tail bite marks. This positive correlation suggests that mink have a tendency to fight in a reciprocal way (giving and receiving bites) and thus, a genotype that confers a tendency to bite other individuals can also cause its bearer to receive more bites. Conclusion Both direct and indirect genetic effects contribute to variation in number of bite marks in group-housed mink. Thus, a genetic selection design that includes both direct genetic and indirect genetic effects could reduce the frequency of bite marks and probably aggression behaviour in group-housed mink.