Jerine van der Eijk received her Bachelor degree in Biology from Utrecht University in 2012. With a special interest in animal behaviour and welfare she continued to study Animal Sciences at Wageningen University where she received her Master degree in 2014. In September 2015 she started her PhD project on effects of the early life gut microbiota on the development of feather pecking in laying hens. This is a joint project at the Behavioural Ecology and Adaptation Physiology Group of the Department of Animal Sciences of Wageningen University together with Dr. Bas Rodenburg and Dr. Aart Lammers.
- Early-life conditions
- Behavioural development
- Maladaptive behaviour
- Social behaviour
- Animal welfare
Early life environment has a profound impact on the behavioural development of an animal. An important moment is the first feeding, where the gut is rapidly colonized by bacteria that develop into the gut microbiota. There is striking evidence that microbiota has long-term influences on physiology and behaviour. To date, studies have identified effects of microbiota on behavioural characteristics in rodents, including activity, anxiety and stress. Yet, little is known about the influences of early life microbiota on behaviour in a social context, where these effects can have major consequences for animal welfare.
As microbiota affects stress and anxiety, it can alter an animal’s ability to cope with environmental and social challenges and can thus affect welfare. Fearfulness and stress sensitivity are related to feather pecking in laying hens, which involves pecking and pulling at feathers or tissue of conspecifics and negatively affects welfare. First indications have been found that feather peckers differ in intestinal microbial metabolites from non-peckers. These findings suggest a causal link between microbiota and feather pecking. Yet, it is unknown whether such a link exists.
The aim of this project is to identify effects of early life microbiota on feather pecking in laying hens. We will use genetic lines selected for high and low feather pecking as a powerful model system to identify effects on feather pecking.