Livestock Biodiversity an Important Measure of Climate Change Adaptation

Research on climate change mitigation within agriculture often highlights methods of GHG reduction which simultaneously act to increase climate change adaptability. Livestock production is a sector in which possibilities for these dual-purpose systematic transformations are robust. Livestock production is global, but within the spectrum of how the 33 types of livestock which are kept worldwide are many degrees of reliance on natural resources, dependence on external inputs, use of expensive technological equipment, and types of knowledge systems used to breed livestock. The authors identify two main styles of livestock production which coexist globally: concentrated, livestock rearing facilities which focus on the yield of only one product (milk, eggs, etc.) and rural forage-based systems which require low external input, use animals for many products (in cows for example, meat, milk, fabric, fertilizer, work as well as value to the ‘cultural landscape’), and maintain genetic wealth through indigenous knowledge systems. The focus of the paper was to evaluate these two type of livestock management practices in light of the requirement to adapt and possibly mitigate the effects of climate change. Specifically the authors examined the potential of genetic diversity to play a role in the ability of livestock systems to remain resilient despite the substantial and long-term consequences of climate change.—Asa Kamer
Hoffman, Irene 2010. Climate change and the characterization, breeding and conservation of animal genetic resources. Animal Genetics 41, 32-46.

Hoffman researched the ‘growing dichotomy’ between commercial operations and small-scale pastoralists who live on the land. Since genetic diversity is considered to be an important measure of agricultural systems facing systematic shocks such as climate change, the genetic characteristics of these two types of production were examined. The commercial model is genetically narrow featuring a small number of globally distributed breeds which have been researched and distributed to many developed countries because of one productive trait. Regions which have built industrial livestock systems are the ones which have suffered the greatest loss of breed diversity in the past century. These systems are not able to quickly adjust to sensitivities from new temperature, precipitation, or disease conditions caused by climate change because they generally rely on only one breed which is specifically adapted to the existing set of conditions. The author discusses how livestock physiology and nutrition changes when temperatures rise above the animals’ adaptive range, significantly decreasing their ability to produce milk and/or meat. In the context of climate change more research is required to elaborate on this paper’s prediction that current concentrated feeding operations may face severe challenges as their animals live in different conditions. On the other hand hot arid climates in many parts of the world provide limited natural resources and only support agricultural systems like low input pastoralism. Thus, many of the world’s locally kept and bred livestock breeds already live in the types of climates which could be created or exacerbated by climate change. The people who raise local, small herd, forage livestock are generally economically and ecologically marginalized.
Since livestock bred by local people and methods will be more suited to the local environment than those imported from other countries, local herds will likely support the adaptation to climate change for rural peoples much more effectively than foreign breeds in concentrated operations. According to the author it is more important that countries develop their own genetic livestock pools than simply import them for economic reasons, however, the author suggests that should climate change make certain local livestock populations unsuited for new conditions, exchange of breeds among regions which share similar environments could be necessary. Thus climate change will increase the necessity for genetic exchange of livestock among countries. Since many of the world’s local breeds are uncharacteristic, that is not cataloged and registered internationally for their traits, it is difficult for outsiders to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of local breeds, making their potential for exchange with international livestock breeding programs poor. In order to integrate pastoral populations and rare local livestock breeds with global climate change adaptation measures, it is important to characterize local breeds and prioritize agricultural biodiversity as a key measure of climate change adaptation. 

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