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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

DOI

10.1038/431645a

Type

Journal article

Journal

Nature

Publication Date

07/10/2004

Volume

431

Pages

645 - 646

Keywords

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