Abstract / Description of output
Beak treatment is an effective method of reducing the damage inflicted by severe feather pecking (SFP) but there is significant pressure to eliminate these treatments and rely solely on alternative strategies. Substantial variation in beak shape exists within non-beak treated layer flocks and beak shape appears to be heritable. There is the potential to use this pre-existing variation and genetically select for hens whose beak shapes are less apt to cause damage during SFP. To do this, we must first understand the range of phenotypes that exist for both the external beak shape and the bones that provide its structure. The objective of this study was to determine the variation in premaxillary (within the top beak) and dentary (within the bottom beak) bone morphology that exists in two non-beak treated pure White Leghorn layer lines using geometric morphometrics to analyze radiographs. Lateral head radiographs were taken of 825 hens and the premaxillary and dentary bones were landmarked. Landmark coordinates were standardized by Procrustes superimposition and the covariation was analyzed by principal components analysis and multivariate regression using Geomorph (an R package). Three principal components (PCs) explained 85% of total premaxillary bone shape variation and showed that the shape ranged from long and narrow with pointed bone tips to short and wide with more curved tips. Two PCs explained 81% of total dentary bone shape variation. PC1 described the dentary bone length and width and PC2 explained the angle between the bone tip and its articular process. For both bones, shape was significantly associated with bone size and differed significantly between the two lines. Bone size accounted for 42% of the total shape variation for both bones. Together, the results showed a range of phenotypic variation in premaxillary and dentary bone shape, which in turn may influence beak shape. These bone phenotypes will guide further quantitative genetic and behavioral analyses that will help identify which beaks shapes cause the least damage when birds engage in SFP.