Effects of genetic group selection against mortality on behavior and peripheral serotonin in domestic laying hens with trimmed and intact beaks

J.E. Bolhuis, E.D. Ellen, C.G. van Reenen, J. de Groot, J. ten Napel, R.E. Koopmanschap, G. de Vries Reilingh, K.A. Uitdehaag, B. Kemp, T.B. Rodenburg

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87 Citations (Scopus)


Severe feather pecking is a maladaptive behavior in laying hens that may result in cannibalism and ultimately death of the victims. Selection methods in which the genetic effect of an animal on the survival of its group members is taken into account, i.e. `group selection¿, have been shown to be very effective in reducing mortality due to feather pecking and cannibalism in laying hens. It has been suggested that fearfulness and serotonergic functioning are involved in the causation and development of feather pecking. We investigated effects of selection based on survivability in non-beak trimmed groups on fear-related behavior and peripheral 5-HT concentration and uptake in hens with trimmed or intact beaks, in a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement. Hens from the second generation of the low mortality line showed less fear-related behavior than control line hens. In addition, they displayed higher whole blood 5-HT concentrations and a lower platelet 5-HT uptake, indicating differences in functional activity of the 5-HT system. Beak trimming resulted in lowered levels of fear, and in a reduction of feather damage. Hens with trimmed and intact beaks did, however, not differ in peripheral 5-HT. The results imply that fearfulness and 5-HT activity are related to feather pecking without distinguishing between cause and effect. However, given that selection altered fear-related behaviors and peripheral 5-HT concentration and uptake, whereas beak trimming affected fearfulness and feather damage, but not 5-HT parameters, we suggest that peripheral 5-HT activity might reflect the predisposition to develop severe feather pecking under adverse conditions in laying hens
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-475
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • white leghorn pullets
  • feather-pecking line
  • platelet serotonin
  • multilevel selection
  • tonic immobility
  • manual restraint
  • blood serotonin
  • panic disorder
  • cannibalism


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