Scientists from Purdue University, the Netherlands and England designed mathematical equations based on traits to choose animals that are more congenial in groups, said William Muir, a Purdue Department of Animal Sciences geneticist. The new method is a tool that may contribute both to animal well-being and to securing the world's future food supply, including possibly permitting more animals to be domesticated, Muir said.
The tool makes it possible to design selective breeding programs to effectively reduce competitive interactions in livestock, he said. The method also aids in predicting how social interactions impact the natural evolution of species.
Muir and his colleagues write about the tool and its effectiveness in two papers published in the current issue of the journal Genetics. The journal's cover highlights the work with a photograph that Muir took of various colorful fish species interacting in a simulated ecosystem at the Monterey, Calif., aquarium.
"There is an inherited part of the associations among animals that has profound effects on performance," Muir said. "It's called competition. Animals compete for food, space, territory and mates."
In the first of the two papers, Muir and his colleagues explain the tool they developed to determine inherited traits that contribute to interactions among both individual animals and groups. The second paper refines the methodology and validates it by applying the tool to a flock of chickens.
In previous research, Muir showed that choosing less aggressive animals from a group for breeding purposes increases productivity. In the latest research, the scientists show that aggressiveness and all other traits affecting social interactions are inherited and can be estimated. They also found that by using the new tool t