Indirect genetic effects and housing conditions in relation to aggressive behaviour in pigs
Indirect Genetic Effects (IGEs), also known as associative effects, are the heritable effects that an individual has on the phenotype of its social partners. Selection for IGEs has been proposed as a method to reduce harmful behaviours, in particular aggression, in livestock and aquaculture. The mechanisms behind IGEs, however, have rarely been studied. The objective was therefore to assess aggression in pigs which were divergently selected for IGEs on growth (IGEg). In a one generation selection experiment, we studied 480 offspring of pigs (Sus scrofa) that were selected for relatively high or low IGEg and housed in homogeneous IGEg groups in either barren or enriched environments. Skin lesion scores, a proxy measure of aggression, and aggressive behaviours were recorded. The two distinct IGEg groups did not differ in number of skin lesions, or in amount of reciprocal fighting, both under stable social conditions and in confrontation with unfamiliar pigs in a 24 h regrouping test. Pigs selected for a positive effect on the growth of their group members, however, performed less non-reciprocal biting and showed considerably less aggression at reunion with familiar group members after they had been separated during a 24 h regrouping test. The enriched environment was associated with more skin lesions but less non-reciprocal biting under stable social conditions. Changes in aggression between pigs selected for IGEg were not influenced by G6E interactions with regard to the level of environmental enrichment. It is likely that selection on IGEg targets a behavioural strategy, rather than a single behavioural trait such as aggressiveness.
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