On the origin of European sheep as revealed by the diversity of the Balkan breeds and by optimizing population-genetic analysis tools

Paolo Ajmone Marsan, Licia Colli, Mario Barbato, Elena Ciani, Salvatore Mastrangelo, Anne Da Silva, Fabio Marroni, Maja Ferenčaković, Hayley Baird, Chiara Delvento, Toni Dovenski, Gregor Gorjanc, Stephen J. G. Hall, Anila Hoda, Meng-Hua Li, Božidarka Marković, Mohammad H. Moradi, Otsanda Ruiz-Larrañaga, Dragana Ružić-Muslić, Dragica ŠalamonMojca Simčič, Ondrej Stepanek, Ino Curik, Vlatka Cubric-Curik, Johannes A. Lenstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In the Neolithic, domestic sheep migrated into Europe and subsequently spread in westerly and northwesterly directions. Reconstruction of these migrations and subsequent genetic events requires a more detailed characterization of the current phylogeographic differentiation. Results: We collected 50 K single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) profiles of Balkan sheep that are currently found near the major Neolithic point of entry into Europe, and combined these data with published genotypes from southwest-Asian, Mediterranean, central-European and north-European sheep and from Asian and European mouflons. We detected clines, ancestral components and admixture by using variants of common analysis tools: geography-informative supervised principal component analysis (PCA), breed-specific admixture analysis, across-breed $f_{4}$ f 4 profiles and phylogenetic analysis of regional pools of breeds. The regional Balkan sheep populations exhibit considerable genetic overlap, but are clearly distinct from the breeds in surrounding regions. The Asian mouflon did not influence the differentiation of the European domestic sheep and is only distantly related to present-day sheep, including those from Iran where the mouflons were sampled. We demonstrate the occurrence, from southeast to northwest Europe, of a continuously increasing ancestral component of up to 20% contributed by the European mouflon, which is assumed to descend from the original Neolithic domesticates. The overall patterns indicate that the Balkan region and Italy served as post-domestication migration hubs, from which wool sheep reached Spain and north Italy with subsequent migrations northwards. The documented dispersal of Tarentine wool sheep during the Roman period may have been part of this process. Our results also reproduce the documented 18th century admixture of Spanish Merino sheep into several central-European breeds. Conclusions: Our results contribute to a better understanding of the events that have created the present diversity pattern, which is relevant for the management of the genetic resources represented by the European sheep population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • sheep, population genetics, diversity


Dive into the research topics of 'On the origin of European sheep as revealed by the diversity of the Balkan breeds and by optimizing population-genetic analysis tools'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this