Genetic parameters for social effects on survival in cannibalistic layers: combining survival analysis and a linear animal model

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Mortality due to cannibalism in laying hens is a difficult trait to improve genetically, because censoring is high (animals still alive at the end of the testing period) and it may depend on both the individual itself and the behaviour of its group members, so-called associative effects (social interactions). To analyse survival data, survival analysis can be used. However, it is not possible to include associative effects in the current software for survival analysis. A solution could be to combine survival analysis and a linear animal model including associative effects. This paper presents a two-step approach (2STEP), combining survival analysis and a linear animal model including associative effects (LAM). METHODS: Data of three purebred White Leghorn layer lines from Institut de Sélection Animale B.V., a Hendrix Genetics company, were used in this study. For the statistical analysis, survival data on 16,780 hens kept in four-bird cages with intact beaks were used. Genetic parameters for direct and associative effects on survival time were estimated using 2STEP. Cross validation was used to compare 2STEP with LAM. LAM was applied directly to estimate genetic parameters for social effects on observed survival days. RESULTS: Using 2STEP, total heritable variance, including both direct and associative genetic effects, expressed as the proportion of phenotypic variance, ranged from 32% to 64%. These results were substantially larger than when using LAM. However, cross validation showed that 2STEP gave approximately the same survival curves and rank correlations as LAM. Furthermore, cross validation showed that selection based on both direct and associative genetic effects, using either 2STEP or LAM, gave the best prediction of survival time. CONCLUSION: It can be concluded that 2STEP can be used to estimate genetic parameters for direct and associative effects on survival time in laying hens. Using 2STEP increased the heritable variance in survival time. Cross validation showed that social genetic effects contribute to a large difference in survival days between two extreme groups. Genetic selection targeting both direct and associative effects is expected to reduce mortality due to cannibalism in laying hens.
Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalGenetics, Selection, Evolution
Volume42
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • multiple-hen cages
  • group selection
  • laying hens
  • multilevel selection
  • inheritance
  • competition
  • responses
  • traits
  • populations
  • improvement

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