Possible negative effects of inbreeding on semen quality in Shetland pony stallions

P. van Eldik, E.H. van der Waaij, B.J. Ducro, A.W. Kooper, T.A.E. Stout, B. Colenbrander

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59 Citations (Scopus)


Inbreeding is widely believed to negatively affect reproductive performance. Indeed, in some species, high levels of inbreeding are thought to be the major cause of poor semen quality. It is, however, not clear whether inbreeding affects fertility in horses. In this study, the relationship between inbreeding and semen quality was examined in 285 immature Shetland pony stallions submitted for breeding soundness examination in March-April of the years 1992-1997. The majority of stallions examined were 3 years old (85%) and their coefficients of inbreeding ranged from 0 to 25% (mean ± S.D.: 3 ± 4.6%). For the purpose of analysis, stallions were divided into six inbreeding classes (0-1, 1-2, 2-5, 5-8, 8-12 and >12%) containing 132, 40, 42, 27, 25 and 19 animals, respectively. The degree of inbreeding significantly affected many aspects of sperm production and quality, based on a standard examination of two ejaculates collected at a 1.5-3 h interval. In particular, coefficients of inbreeding above 2% were associated with lower percentages of motile (p <0.01) and morphologically normal sperm (p <0.001). When the data set was used to estimate heritability of semen characteristics, the high values calculated for sperm progressive motility (0.46) and concentration (0.24) suggested that these traits could be improved by phenotypic selection. These findings support the hypothesis that inbreeding has a detrimental effect on semen quality in Shetland ponies, although examination of multiple ejaculates after repeated semen collection to bring the animals to daily sperm output is needed to confirm this conclusion. Nevertheless, the results support previous suggestions that inbreeding is an important cause of reduced semen quality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1170
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • reproductive-performance
  • fluctuating asymmetry
  • ejaculate quality
  • fertility
  • heterozygosity
  • populations
  • depression
  • parameters
  • season
  • sperm


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