The role of genes, epigenetics and ontogeny in behavioural development

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This review focuses on the role of genes, epigenetics and ontogeny in behavioural devel-opment of animals. The behavioural characteristics of an individual are determined by itsgenes and by its physical and social environment. Not only the individual’s early life andcurrent environment are of importance, but also the environment of previous generations.Through epigenetic processes, stress in parents and even grandparents can translate intochanges in behavioural and physical characteristics of the offspring. Another influentialfactor for behavioural development is maternal hormones. Recent studies indicate thathormonal effects may also be closely related to epigenetic changes. Also, the environmentduring ontogeny has considerable impact on behavioural development: in both mice andlaying hens, high quality maternal care resulted in animals that were less fearful. In layinghens maternal care also led to a reduction in cannibalistic pecking. Genetic selection andselection experiments will also play a key role in breeding animals for the housing systemsof the future. To optimize behavioural development of farm animals and to minimize risksof damaging behaviour, integral approaches are needed that combine selection of the opti-mal genotype with provision of a favourable environment for parents and offspring, bothduring ontogeny and later life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-13
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • gallus-gallus-domesticus
  • feather pecking behavior
  • laying hens
  • maternal-care
  • low mortality
  • offspring phenotype
  • zebra finches
  • stress
  • selection
  • cannibalism

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