To enhance and extend the knowledge about the global historical and phylogenetic relationships between Merino and Merino-derived breeds, 19 populations were genotyped with the OvineSNP50 BeadChip specifically for this study, while an additional 23 populations from the publicly available genotypes were retrieved. Three complementary statistical tests, Rsb (extended haplotype homozygosity between-populations), XP-EHH (cross-population extended haplotype homozygosity), and runs of homozygosity (ROH) islands were applied to identify genomic variants with potential impact on the adaptability of Merino genetic type in two contrasting climate zones. The results indicate that a large part of the Merino’s genetic relatedness and admixture patterns are explained by their genetic background and/or geographic origin, followed by local admixture. Multi-dimensional scaling, Neighbor-Net, Admixture, and TREEMIX analyses consistently provided evidence of the role of Australian, Rambouillet and German strains in the extensive gene introgression into the other Merino and Merino-derived breeds. The close relationship between Iberian Merinos and other South-western European breeds is consistent with the Iberian origin of the Merino genetic type, with traces from previous contributions of other Mediterranean stocks. Using Rsb and XP-EHH approaches, signatures of selection were detected spanning four genomic regions located on Ovis aries chromosomes (OAR) 1, 6 and 16, whereas two genomic regions on OAR6, that partially overlapped with the previous ones, were highlighted by ROH islands. Overall, the three approaches identified 106 candidate genes putatively under selection. Among them, genes related to immune response were identified via the gene interaction network.
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