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Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: the maternal and paternal history of native ponies.

Winton, Clare L.; McMahon, Robert; Hegarty, Matthew J.; McEwan, Neil R.; Davies-Morel, Mina C.G.; Morgan, Charly; Nash, Deborah M.


Clare L. Winton

Robert McMahon

Matthew J. Hegarty

Neil R. McEwan

Mina C.G. Davies-Morel

Charly Morgan

Deborah M. Nash


The UK and Ireland have many native pony breeds with historical and cultural importance as well as being a source of uncharacterized genetic diversity. However, there is a lack of comprehensive research investigating their genetic diversity and phylogenetic interrelationships. Many studies contain a limited number of pony breeds or small sample sizes for these breeds. This may result in erroneous grouping of pony breeds that otherwise have intricate interrelationships with each other and are not evaluated correctly when placed as a token subset of a larger dataset. This is the first study that specifically investigates the genetic diversity within and between British and Irish native pony breeds using large sample numbers from locations of their native origin. This study used a panel of microsatellite markers and sequence analysis of the mitochondrial control region to analyze the genetic diversity within and between 11 pony breeds from Britain and Ireland. A large dataset was collected (a total of 485 animals were used for mtDNA analysis and 450 for microsatellite analysis), and previously published data were used to place the British and Irish ponies in a global context. The native ponies of Britain and Ireland were found to have had a complex history, and the interrelationships between the breeds were revealed. Overall, high levels of genetic diversity were maintained in native breeds, although some reduction was evident in small or isolated populations (Shetland, Carneddau, and Section C). Unusual mitochondrial diversity distribution patterns were apparent for the Carneddau and Dartmoor, although among breeds and global haplogroups there was a high degree of haplotype sharing evident, well-represented within British and Irish ponies. Ancestral maternal diversity was maintained by most populations, particularly the Fells and Welsh ponies, which exhibited rare and ancient lineages. The maternal and paternal histories of the breeds are distinct, with male-biased crossings between native breeds, and other shared influences, likely Arabs and Thoroughbreds, are apparent. The data generated herein provide valuable information to guide and implement the conservation of increasingly rare native genetic resources.


WINTON, C.L., MCMAHON, R., HEGARTY, M.J., MCEWAN, N.R., DAVIES-MOREL, M.C.G., MORGAN, C. and NASH, D.M. 2020. Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: the maternal and paternal history of native ponies. Ecology and evolution [online], 10(3), pages 1352-1367. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 7, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 27, 2020
Publication Date Feb 29, 2020
Deposit Date Jan 28, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jan 28, 2020
Journal Ecology and evolution
Electronic ISSN 2045-7758
Publisher Wiley Open Access
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 3
Pages 1352-1367
Keywords Conservation; Genetic diversity; mtDNA; Ponies
Public URL


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