Heart rate is tonically regulated by the two branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS); parasympathetic stimulation decreases heart rate while sympathetic stimulation increases it. Previous studies on the ANS in chickens have focused mainly on embryonic development, but it is largely unknown what happens in the weeks following hatching. The present study focused on the development of the autonomic nervous system in 2 and 5 week old broiler and Red Junglefowl (RJF). Since broilers are less fearful, less stressed and less active than their wild ancestor RJF, a possible domestication effect on the sympathetic nervous system was investigated by evaluating both physiological and behavioural responses during stress. I found that the heart is mainly under control from the sympathetic nervous system in 2 and 5 week old broiler and RJF as propranolol significantly decreased heart rate during baseline and stress conditions while injection of atropine had little or no effect on baseline. When the adrenergic tone was blocked, heart rate still increased during stress, more so in 5 week old birds than in 2 week old birds. This suggests that some other physiological regulatory mechanism with fast recruitment is involved in the stress response and it matures in the weeks following hatch. No differences in behaviour between broiler and RJF were observed when the sympathetic nervous system was inhibited. As both breeds show similar responses, a domestication effect on the ANS from these results cannot be confirmed.
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Last updated: 04/28/15