Nie, C., Ban, L., Ning, Z. et al. 2019. Feather colour affects the aggressive behaviour of chickens with the same genotype on the dominant white (I) locus. PLOS ONE 14(5), e0215921.

Aggression in chickens is a serious economic and animal welfare issue in poultry farming. Pigmentation traits have been documented to be associated with animal behaviour. Chicken pecking behaviour has been found to be related to feather colour, with premelanosome protein 17 (PMEL17) being one of the candidate genes. In the present study, we performed a genotypic and phenotypic association analysis between chicken plumage colour (red and white) and aggressive behaviour in an F1 hybrid group generated by crossing the autosomal dominant white-feathered breed White Leghorn (WL) and the red-feathered breed Rhode Island Red (RIR). In genetic theory, all the progeny should have white feathers because WL is homozygous autosomal dominant for white feathers. However, we found a few red-feathered female chickens. We compared the aggressiveness between the red and white females to determine whether the feather colour alone affected the behaviour, given that the genetic background should be the same except for feather colour. The aggressiveness was recorded 5 days after sexual maturity at 26 weeks. Generally, white plumage hens showed significantly higher aggressiveness compared to the red ones in chasing, attacking, pecking, and threatening behaviour traits. We assessed three candidate feather colour genes—PMEL17, solute carrier family 45 member 2 (SLC45A2), and SRY-box 10 (SOX10)—to determine the genetic basis for the red and white feather colour in our hybrid population; there was no association between the three loci and feather colour. The distinct behavioural findings observed herein provide clues to the mechanisms underlying the association between phenotype and behaviour in chickens. We suggest that mixing red and white chickens together might reduce the occurrence of aggressive behaviours.

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