Domestication effects on foraging behaviour: consequences for adaptability in chickens

  • Lindqvist C
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The main aim of this thesis was to study domestication effects on foraging behaviour in chickens and to investigate whether and how domestication and selection for high production have influenced adaptability in chickens. Two domestic strains of chickens (egg layers and meat type chickens) and their wild ancestor, the red jungle fowl (RJF) were compared in different test situations with respect to foraging behaviour and adaptability. The domestic strains showed a modified foraging strategy, where they were less inclined to explore and feed from a hidden food source, i.e. they showed less contrafreeloading (CFL, the behaviour of working for food even though identical food can be easily obtained) than RJF. The difference in CFL between RJF and the layers were not altered by food deprivation, which suggests that the lower CFL in the layers represents a genetically based difference in feeding strategy. In addition, CFL decreased with age in RJF and layers and social isolation decreased CFL in RJF. Furthermore, when foraging, RJF acquired information about the quality of different food sources, which was utilised after a change in environmental conditions. Contrary to this, layers gained less information during foraging and showed an impaired spatial learning ability compared to RJF, and in this respect, layers showed a lower degree of adaptability. Chronic stress impaired the learning capacity of both breeds but RJF seemed to be overall faster to learn to locate food in a spatial learning task. Furthermore, stressed RJF started to eat faster in the spatial learning test than non-stressed RJF, and contrary to this, stressed layers showed a more passive response by prolonging the time to start feeding compared to non-stressed layers. This indicates a more active response to stress in RJF than in layers. Similarly, when RJF and layers were exposed to food deprivation, RJF showed an active response by increasing their time spent on foraging behaviour. The general results in this thesis most likely reflect different adaptive strategies, where RJF appear to be better adapted to a stochastic environment, and the domestic strains to grow and produce egg in a more predictable environment. The findings are in accordance with the resource allocation theory, which suggests that animals selected for high production are expected to reallocate a high proportion of resources into production traits and hence fewer resources might be left to other biological processes, e.g. exploratory behaviour. Selection for high production seems to influence the ability of chickens to cope with a changing environment, which may have implications for the welfare of chickens in a production environment.

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  • Christina Lindqvist

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