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Domesticated: how does artificial selection influence the brain of domestic fowl?

2022 CPRF,Behaviour & Welfare
Domestication is the process by which animals are artificially selected over generations for a variety of desired morphological and/or behavioural traits. Most often, animals are selected for production traits and/or behaviour traits such as improved tameness or sporting performance. One of the most famous examples of artificial selection for behaviour is the homing pigeon. Homing pigeons can locate their home loft from a novel start point over thousands of kilometres while they are ‘homing’, a spatial task dependent on the hippocampal formation (HF) of the brain. Despite differences in spatial-cognitive performance, it remains unclear if artificial selection has caused alterations in the homing pigeon HF. Here, we test if homing pigeons have larger HF volumes with more neurons than other pigeons, including feral pigeons, show, and sporting breeds. Using unbiased stereological methods, we calculated regional brain volumes and counted neurons within HF. We found no distinct patterns in regional brain volume but up to a 2-fold increase in HF neuron number and density in homing pigeons compared to most non-homing breeds. This trend was particularly strong in comparison to wild-caught feral pigeons who, though made up of escaped domestic birds, have been released from artificial selection pressures. Trends in HF differed from other brain regions, and we found a mosaic of changes in birds selected for flight performance versus birds selected for morphological traits (show breeds). We conclude that artificial selection for behaviour has caused region-specific changes in neuron populations. This is some of the first evidence of artificial selection driving neuroanatomical changes in the brain of domestic fowl.
Tags :
artificial selection,brain,domestication
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MSc Student

University of Lethbridge

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