MyDogDNA® contributes to the understanding of the breed history and diversity of the Finnish national dog

This week the Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics published a study regarding the impact of breed history on the genetic diversity in Finnish and Nordic Spitz. The study was conducted in collaboration between Genoscoper Laboratories, breed enthusiasts and the department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Eastern Finland. Besides combining traditional pedigree analysis and genotyping in a unique way, the work is also a rare example of citizen science. With the publication, the authors of the study want to raise the awareness of the historical significance as well as the present state of the two breeds and thus to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence.

The closely related Finnish Spitz and Nordic Spitz represent a direct continuation to the prehistorical, medium sized hunting spitzes, which were once used for subsistence hunting throughout the northern Fennoscandia. Breeds started to diverge only after the founding of the Finnish Spitz in 1892. When compared to the Nordic Spitz, Finnish Spitz has been always very popular and owned a large population size. In contrast, the Nordic Spitz nearly went extinct before being resurrected as a breed in Sweden in 1966 from a handful of dogs, which were later supplemented with Finnish feral spitzes. The studbook was closed in Sweden in 1980’s but remains open in Finland.

Due to its long history, Finnish Spitz has been until recently under intensive breeding regime, including the overrepresentation of few champion males in the breeding population. This quite likely explains the lower than average genetic heterozygosity in the breed. The situation has already been known for a while and the Finnish Spitz club has intensified efforts to broaden the breeding population and to increase genetic diversity in the breed.

Rather surprisingly, the study revealed high diversity in the Nordic Spitz, with heterozygosity levels similar to mixed breed dogs. This diversity is explained partly by the short breeding history but also by the recent admixture with other dog breeds, as evident from the existence of a genetic disease mutation originating from the Finnish Hound.

Another interesting outcome of the study is the evaluation of the historical effective population sizes (Figure 1). For both breeds, the effective population size collapsed concomitantly with the breed establishment, demonstrating how breed standard efficiently blocks the gene flow among dog populations. The large historical population sizes do not necessarily indicate large local populations, but rather the fact that the ancestors of our modern spitz breeds are genetically connected to most northern hunting spitzes. The historical effective population size of Nordic Spitz is somewhat larger than Finnish Spitz, probably due to the recent admixture with other modern breeds.

Finnish Spitz and Nordic Spitz represent thousands of year’s old cultural history, whose continuation will be dependent on maintaining the breeds in hunting use. Finns have particular responsibility in this, as not only the majority of the world population of these two breeds lives in Finland, but also because these dogs are a living link to the traditional lifestyle that enabled subsistence in the wilderness.

Link to the publication: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jbg.12262/abstract

 

Figs:

1 The historical effective population sizes of Finnish and Nordic Spizes. Breed establishment resulted in rapid decline of the population size. © J. Pohjoismäki.

 


 
2 Nordic Spitz (left) and Finnish Spitz (right) are the modern representatives of the traditional medium sizes hunting spitzes. © J. Pohjoismäki.

 

More information: Jaakko Pohjoismäki, University of Eastern Finland, tel. +35850 5744745, email. jaakko.pohjoismaki@uef.fi