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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.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





645 - 646


Aggression, Alleles, Animal Welfare, Animals, Animals, Domestic, Chickens, Crosses, Genetic, Feathers, Female, Genes, Dominant, Genotype, Male, Membrane Glycoproteins, Phenotype, Pigmentation, Proteins, Quantitative Trait Loci, Social Dominance, gp100 Melanoma Antigen