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Has artificial selection driven anatomical changes in the brain of the domestic pigeon (Columba livia)?

2021 CPRF
Domestication is the process by which animals are artificially selected over time for specific, often divergent, behavioural and morphological traits. One of the most famous examples of selection for behavioural traits in a domesticated species is the homing pigeon. Homing pigeons can locate a home loft from a novel starting point and over unfamiliar terrain up to thousands of kilometres away. Homing is a spatial memory task dependent on the hippocampal formation (HF) in the brain. Despite the wealth of research on homing pigeon behaviour, whether the HF anatomy of homing pigeons differs from other breeds remains unclear. Based on intense selection for homing, we expect that homing pigeons have a relatively larger HF with more neurons than other breeds. Here, we provide initial data from a detailed comparison of HF anatomy across homing, feral, show, and sporting pigeons to test this prediction. Using unbiased stereology, we measured HF volume and neuron numbers in homing and feral pigeons, as well as several other sporting breeds. We then used generalized linear models to compare data across breeds in relation to the size of the brain and cerebral hemispheres. Preliminary analyses indicate that the homing pigeon HF is larger relative to the rest of the cerebral hemispheres and brain than feral pigeons’. This suggests that feral pigeons, descendants of homing pigeons no longer selected for homing, underwent a regression in HF size over a relatively short time frame. Analysing the brain anatomy of a wider range of domestic breeds will allow us to better understand the relationship between homing and neuroanatomy and provide insight into how artificial selection for behaviour affects brain anatomy and function in domestic animals.
Tags :
brain,domestication,genetic selection
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MSc Student

University of Lethbridge

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