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The role of genes, epigenetics and ontogeny in behavioural development

By T. B. Rodenburg

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This review focuses on the role of genes, epigenetics and ontogeny in behavioural development of animals. The behavioural characteristics of an individual are determined by its genes and by its physical and social environment. Not only the individual's early life and current environment are of importance, but also the environment of previous generations. Through epigenetic processes, stress in parents and even grandparents can translate into changes in behavioural and physical characteristics of the offspring. Another influential factor for behavioural development is maternal hormones. Recent studies indicate that hormonal effects may also be closely related to epigenetic changes. Also, the environment during ontogeny has considerable impact on behavioural development: in both mice and laying hens, high quality maternal care resulted in animals that were less fearful. In laying hens maternal care also led to a reduction in cannibalistic pecking. Genetic selection and selection experiments will also play a key role in breeding animals for the housing systems of the future. To optimize behavioural development of farm animals and to minimize risks of damaging behaviour, integral approaches are needed that combine selection of the optimal genotype with provision of a favourable environment for parents and offspring, both during ontogeny and later life.

Date 2014
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 157
Pages 8-13
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.06.002
Author Address Behavioural Ecology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal genetics
  3. Animal housing
  4. Animal physiology
  5. Animal reproduction
  6. Animals
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  9. Birds
  10. Characteristics
  11. Diseases and injuries of animals
  12. Effect
  13. Egg production
  14. Eggs
  15. Environment
  16. Fowls
  17. Genes
  18. Genetics
  19. Genotypes
  20. Hens
  21. Hormones
  22. Livestock
  23. Mammals
  24. Mice
  25. ontogeny
  26. parents
  27. Poultry
  28. Production
  29. progeny
  30. Research
  31. Reviews
  32. Rodents
  33. sociability
  34. Stress
  35. vertebrates