Nazar, F. N., Skånberg, L., McCrea, K. et al. 2022. Increasing environmental complexity by providing different types of litter and perches during early rearing boosts coping abilities in domestic fowl chicks. Animals 12(15), 1969.
Early experience of a complex environment can improve biologically relevant traits related to coping abilities. However, the mechanisms underlying these positive effects have not been well explored. We hypothesized that giving chicks possibilities to express choices within relevant resources could be an important part of the mechanism, as well as a novel way to increase environmental complexity. In a balanced design, laying hen hatchlings of the white hybrid Bovans Robust were reared in a “single-choice” environment (single litter and perch type) or a “multi-choice” environment (four different litter and perch types). Immunological and behavioral indicators of chicks’ coping abilities were explored in this experimental study at three weeks of age. Chicks from “multi-choice” environments had shorter durations of tonic immobility, lower heterophil/lymphocyte ratios, higher natural antibody concentrations, and were more successful in gaining novel food rewards in a repeated opportunity test. These results imply that chicks having access to variation within resource types were less fearful, experienced less chronic stress, would be more able to cope with pathogenic challenges, and potentially had an improved learning ability. To conclude, the more complex environment, achieved by increasing chicks’ possibilities to choose, seemed to make chicks better prepared for potential challenges, boosting their adaptive capacities and their ability to make the most of opportunities.