Concept: Domestication of the horse
The aim of our study was to explore the association between dominance rank and body condition in outdoor group-living domestic horses, Equus caballus. Social interactions were recorded using a video camera during a feeding test, applied to 203 horses in 42 herds. Dominance rank was assigned to 194 individuals. The outcome variable body condition score (BCS) was recorded using a 9-point scale. The variables age and height were recorded and considered as potential confounders or effect modifiers. Results were analysed using multivariable linear and logistic regression techniques, controlling for herd group as a random effect. More dominant (p = 0.001) individuals generally had a higher body condition score (p = 0.001) and this association was entirely independent of age and height. In addition, a greater proportion of dominant individuals fell into the obese category (BCS ≥ 7/9, p = 0.005). There were more displacement encounters and a greater level of interactivity in herds that had less variation in age and height, lending strength to the hypothesis that phenotypic variation may aid cohesion in group-living species. In addition there was a strong quadratic relationship between age and dominance rank (p < 0.001), where middle-aged individuals were most likely to be dominant. These results are the first to link behavioural predictors to body condition and obesity status in horses and should prompt the future consideration of behavioural and social factors when evaluating clinical disease risk in group-living animals.
The Eneolithic Botai culture of the Central Asian steppes provides the earliest archaeological evidence for horse husbandry, ~5,500 ya, but the exact nature of early horse domestication remains controversial. We generated 42 ancient horse genomes, including 20 from Botai. Compared to 46 published ancient and modern horse genomes, our data indicate that Przewalski’s horses are the feral descendants of horses herded at Botai and not truly wild horses. All domestic horses dated from ~4,000 ya to present only show ~2.7% of Botai-related ancestry. This indicates that a massive genomic turnover underpins the expansion of the horse stock that gave rise to modern domesticates, which coincides with large-scale human population expansions during the Early Bronze Age.
Present-day domestic horses are immensely diverse in their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA, yet they show very little variation on their paternally inherited Y chromosome. Although it has recently been shown that Y chromosomal diversity in domestic horses was higher at least until the Iron Age, when and why this diversity disappeared remain controversial questions. We genotyped 16 recently discovered Y chromosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 96 ancient Eurasian stallions spanning the early domestication stages (Copper and Bronze Age) to the Middle Ages. Using this Y chromosomal time series, which covers nearly the entire history of horse domestication, we reveal how Y chromosomal diversity changed over time. Our results also show that the lack of multiple stallion lineages in the extant domestic population is caused by neither a founder effect nor random demographic effects but instead is the result of artificial selection-initially during the Iron Age by nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and later during the Roman period. Moreover, the modern domestic haplotype probably derived from another, already advantageous, haplotype, most likely after the beginning of the domestication. In line with recent findings indicating that the Przewalski and domestic horse lineages remained connected by gene flow after they diverged about 45,000 years ago, we present evidence for Y chromosomal introgression of Przewalski horses into the gene pool of European domestic horses at least until medieval times.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published almost 6 years ago
The domestication of the horse ∼5.5 kya and the emergence of mounted riding, chariotry, and cavalry dramatically transformed human civilization. However, the genetics underlying horse domestication are difficult to reconstruct, given the near extinction of wild horses. We therefore sequenced two ancient horse genomes from Taymyr, Russia (at 7.4- and 24.3-fold coverage), both predating the earliest archeological evidence of domestication. We compared these genomes with genomes of domesticated horses and the wild Przewalski’s horse and found genetic structure within Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, with the ancient population contributing significantly to the genetic variation of domesticated breeds. We furthermore identified a conservative set of 125 potential domestication targets using four complementary scans for genes that have undergone positive selection. One group of genes is involved in muscular and limb development, articular junctions, and the cardiac system, and may represent physiological adaptations to human utilization. A second group consists of genes with cognitive functions, including social behavior, learning capabilities, fear response, and agreeableness, which may have been key for taming horses. We also found that domestication is associated with inbreeding and an excess of deleterious mutations. This genetic load is in line with the “cost of domestication” hypothesis also reported for rice, tomatoes, and dogs, and it is generally attributed to the relaxation of purifying selection resulting from the strong demographic bottlenecks accompanying domestication. Our work demonstrates the power of ancient genomes to reconstruct the complex genetic changes that transformed wild animals into their domesticated forms, and the population context in which this process took place.
Dun is a wild-type coat color in horses characterized by pigment dilution with a striking pattern of dark areas termed primitive markings. Here we show that pigment dilution in Dun horses is due to radially asymmetric deposition of pigment in the growing hair caused by localized expression of the T-box 3 (TBX3) transcription factor in hair follicles, which in turn determines the distribution of hair follicle melanocytes. Most domestic horses are non-dun, a more intensely pigmented phenotype caused by regulatory mutations impairing TBX3 expression in the hair follicle, resulting in a more circumferential distribution of melanocytes and pigment granules in individual hairs. We identified two different alleles (non-dun1 and non-dun2) causing non-dun color. non-dun2 is a recently derived allele, whereas the Dun and non-dun1 alleles are found in ancient horse DNA, demonstrating that this polymorphism predates horse domestication. These findings uncover a new developmental role for T-box genes and new aspects of hair follicle biology and pigmentation.
The rich fossil record of equids has made them a model for evolutionary processes. Here we present a 1.12-times coverage draft genome from a horse bone recovered from permafrost dated to approximately 560-780 thousand years before present (kyr bp). Our data represent the oldest full genome sequence determined so far by almost an order of magnitude. For comparison, we sequenced the genome of a Late Pleistocene horse (43 kyr bp), and modern genomes of five domestic horse breeds (Equus ferus caballus), a Przewalski’s horse (E. f. przewalskii) and a donkey (E. asinus). Our analyses suggest that the Equus lineage giving rise to all contemporary horses, zebras and donkeys originated 4.0-4.5 million years before present (Myr bp), twice the conventionally accepted time to the most recent common ancestor of the genus Equus. We also find that horse population size fluctuated multiple times over the past 2 Myr, particularly during periods of severe climatic changes. We estimate that the Przewalski’s and domestic horse populations diverged 38-72 kyr bp, and find no evidence of recent admixture between the domestic horse breeds and the Przewalski’s horse investigated. This supports the contention that Przewalski’s horses represent the last surviving wild horse population. We find similar levels of genetic variation among Przewalski’s and domestic populations, indicating that the former are genetically viable and worthy of conservation efforts. We also find evidence for continuous selection on the immune system and olfaction throughout horse evolution. Finally, we identify 29 genomic regions among horse breeds that deviate from neutrality and show low levels of genetic variation compared to the Przewalski’s horse. Such regions could correspond to loci selected early during domestication.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published over 8 years ago
It has recently been shown that some non-human animals can cross-modally recognize members of their own taxon. What is unclear is just how plastic this recognition system can be. In this study, we investigate whether an animal, the domestic horse, is capable of spontaneous cross-modal recognition of individuals from a morphologically very different species. We also provide the first insights into how cross-modal identity information is processed by examining whether there are hemispheric biases in this important social skill. In our preferential looking paradigm, subjects were presented with two people and playbacks of their voices to determine whether they were able to match the voice with the person. When presented with familiar handlers subjects could match the specific familiar person with the correct familiar voice. Horses were significantly better at performing the matching task when the congruent person was standing on their right, indicating marked hemispheric specialization (left hemisphere bias) in this ability. These results are the first to demonstrate that cross-modal recognition in animals can extend to individuals from phylogenetically very distant species. They also indicate that processes governed by the left hemisphere are central to the cross-modal matching of visual and auditory information from familiar individuals in a naturalistic setting.
Referential communication occurs when a sender elaborates its gestures to direct the attention of a recipient to its role in pursuit of the desired goal, e.g. by pointing or showing an object, thereby informing the recipient what it wants. If the gesture is successful, the sender and the recipient focus their attention simultaneously on a third entity, the target. Here we investigated the ability of domestic horses (Equus caballus) to communicate referentially with a human observer about the location of a desired target, a bucket of food out of reach. In order to test six operational criteria of referential communication, we manipulated the recipient’s (experimenter) attentional state in four experimental conditions: frontally oriented, backward oriented, walking away from the arena and frontally oriented with other helpers present in the arena. The rate of gaze alternation was higher in the frontally oriented condition than in all the others. The horses appeared to use both indicative (pointing) and non-indicative (nods and shakes) head gestures in the relevant test conditions. Horses also elaborated their communication by switching from a visual to a tactile signal and demonstrated perseverance in their communication. The results of the tests revealed that horses used referential gestures to manipulate the attention of a human recipient so to obtain an unreachable resource. These are the first such findings in an ungulate species.
- Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience
- Published about 6 years ago
Examining the characteristics of an animal’s lying behaviour, such as frequency and duration of lying bouts, has become increasingly relevant for animal welfare research. Triaxial accelerometers have the advantage of being able to continuously monitor an animal’s standing and lying behaviour without relying on live observations or video recordings. Multiple models of accelerometers have been validated for use in monitoring dairy cattle; however, no units have been validated for use in equines. This study tested Onset Pendant G data loggers attached to the hind limb of each of two mature Standardbred horses for a period of 5 days. Data loggers were set to record their position every 20 s. Horses were monitored via live observations during the day and by video recordings during the night to compare activity against accelerometer data. All lying events occurred overnight (three to five lying bouts per horse per night). Data collected from the loggers was converted and edited using a macro program to calculate the number of bouts and the length of time each animal spent lying down by hour and by day. A paired t-test showed no significant difference between the video observations and the output from the data loggers (P=0.301). The data loggers did not distinguish standing hipshot from standing square. Predictability, sensitivity, and specificity were all >99%. This study has validated the use of Onset Pendant G data loggers to determine the frequency and duration of standing and lying bouts in adult horses when set to sample and register readings at 20 s intervals.
The genomic changes underlying both early and late stages of horse domestication remain largely unknown. We examined the genomes of 14 early domestic horses from the Bronze and Iron Ages, dating to between ~4.1 and 2.3 thousand years before present. We find early domestication selection patterns supporting the neural crest hypothesis, which provides a unified developmental origin for common domestic traits. Within the past 2.3 thousand years, horses lost genetic diversity and archaic DNA tracts introgressed from a now-extinct lineage. They accumulated deleterious mutations later than expected under the cost-of-domestication hypothesis, probably because of breeding from limited numbers of stallions. We also reveal that Iron Age Scythian steppe nomads implemented breeding strategies involving no detectable inbreeding and selection for coat-color variation and robust forelimbs.