Chicken genomics: feather-pecking and victim pigmentation.
Keeling L., Andersson L., Schütz KE., Kerje S., Fredriksson R., Carlborg O., Cornwallis CK., Pizzari T., Jensen P.
Feather-pecking in domestic birds is associated with cannibalism and severe welfare problems. It is a dramatic example of a spiteful behaviour in which the victim's fitness is reduced for no immediate direct benefit to the perpetrator and its evolution is unexplained. Here we show that the plumage pigmentation of a chicken may predispose it to become a victim: birds suffer more drastic feather-pecking when the colour of their plumage is due to the expression of a wild recessive allele at PMEL17, a gene that controls plumage melanization, and when these birds are relatively common in a flock. These findings, obtained using an intercross between a domestic fowl and its wild ancestor, have implications for the welfare of domestic species and offer insight into the genetic changes associated with the evolution of feather-pecking during the early stages of domestication.