Effects of domestication on responses of chickens and red junglefowl to conspecific calls: A pilot study

Vitor Hugo Bessa Ferreira, Mylène Dutour, Rebecca Oscarsson, Johanna Gjøen, Per Jensen

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Beyond physical and zootechnical characteristics, the process of animal domestication has also altered how domesticated individuals, compared to their wild counterparts, perceive, process, and interact with their environment. Little is known, however, on whether and how domestication altered the perception of conspecific calls on both domesticated and wild breeds. In the present work, we compared the vigilance behavior of domestic and captive-born wild fowl following the playback of chicken alarm calls and contentment calls (control). The playback tests were performed on four different breeds/lines. We first compared the behavioral reaction of domesticated White Leghorn (WL, a breed selected for egg production) and Red Junglefowl (RJF) hens (ancestor of domestic chickens). We also compared the behavior of Red Junglefowl hens selected for high or low fear of humans (RJF HF and RJF LF, respectively), a proxy to investigate early effects of domestication. Contrary to our expectations, no breed/line reacted accordingly to the calls, as the increase in vigilance behavior after the playback calls was similar for both alarm and contentment calls. Although no call discrimination differences were found, breeds did differ on how they reacted/habituated to the calls. Overall, WL were more vigilant than RJF, and birds from the RJF LF line decreased their vigilance over testing days, while this was not the case for the RJF HF line. These results suggest that birds under commercial-like conditions are unable to discriminate between alarm and contentment calls. Interestingly, domestication and selection for low fear of humans may have altered how birds react to vocal stimuli. It is important to consider that farmed animals may interpret and be affected by the vocalizations of their conspecifics in unexpected ways, which warrants further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0279553
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2022


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