Species and Phenotypic Distribution Models Reveal Population Differentiation in Ethiopian Indigenous Chickens

Fasil Getachew Kebede*, Hans Komen, Tadelle Dessie, Setegn Worku Alemu, Olivier Hanotte, John W.M. Bastiaansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Smallholder poultry production dominated by indigenous chickens is an important source of livelihoods for most rural households in Ethiopia. The long history of domestication and the presence of diverse agroecologies in Ethiopia create unique opportunities to study the effect of environmental selective pressures. Species distribution models (SDMs) and Phenotypic distribution models (PDMs) can be applied to investigate the relationship between environmental variation and phenotypic differentiation in wild animals and domestic populations. In the present study we used SDMs and PDMs to detect environmental variables related with habitat suitability and phenotypic differentiation among nondescript Ethiopian indigenous chicken populations. 34 environmental variables (climatic, soil, and vegetation) and 19 quantitative traits were analyzed for 513 adult chickens from 26 populations. To have high variation in the dataset for phenotypic and ecological parameters, animals were sampled from four spatial gradients (each represented by six to seven populations), located in different climatic zones and geographies. Three different ecotypes are proposed based on correlation test between habitat suitability maps and phenotypic clustering of sample populations. These specific ecotypes show phenotypic differentiation, likely in response to environmental selective pressures. Nine environmental variables with the highest contribution to habitat suitability are identified. The relationship between quantitative traits and a few of the environmental variables associated with habitat suitability is non-linear. Our results highlight the benefits of integrating species and phenotypic distribution modeling approaches in characterization of livestock populations, delineation of suitable habitats for specific breeds, and understanding of the relationship between ecological variables and quantitative traits, and underlying evolutionary processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number723360
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2021


  • breeds and ecotypes
  • chickens
  • local adaptation
  • niche and agroecology
  • phenotypic differentiation
  • phenotypic distribution models (PDMs)
  • poultry genetics and breeding
  • species distribution models (SDMs)


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