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The role of local adaptation in sustainable production of village chickens


Village chickens are ubiquitous in smallholder farming systems, contributing to household, local and national economies under diverse environmental, economic and cultural settings. However, they are raised in challenging environments where productivity is low while mortality is high. There is much interest in utilizing indigenous genetic resources to produce a chicken that is resilient to its environment, while at the same time providing the basis of an economically sustainable enterprise. Globally, however, a wide variety of interventions have so far proved unable to deliver sustainable improvements. Here we show that regional differences in trait preferences and parasite burden are associated with distinct chicken gene pools, probably in response to interactions between natural and human-driven (economic and social) selection pressures. Drivers of regional differences include marketing opportunities, cultural preferences, agro-ecologies and parasite populations, and are evident in system adaptations, such as management practices, population dynamics and bird genotypes. Our results provide sound multidisciplinary evidence to support previous observations that sustainable poultry development interventions for smallholder farmers, including breeding programmes, should be locally tailored and designed for flexible implementation.

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The bioclimatic variables that used in this study are available from ‘WorldClim’ ( The land cover variable data are available from the ‘Harmonized World Soil Database’ ( All other data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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We thank the Chicken Health for Development project team members and the farmers and development agents in the Jarso and Horro districts for their assistance; D. Hume and G. Banos for helpful comments on drafts of the manuscript; and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Scottish Government for providing funding for the ‘Reducing the impact of infectious disease on poultry production in Ethiopia’ project under the Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development (CIDLID) program (BB/H009396/1, BB/H009159/1 and BB/H009051/1). J.M.B., T.D. and O.H. are supported by CGIAR fund donors

Author information

R.M.C., O.H., P.W., P.K. and T.D. conceived and designed the research; J.M.B., Z.G.T., T.T.D. and P.K. undertook field sampling; A.P., T.T.D., P.K. and O.H. performed genomic analysis; J.M.B. and R.M.C. undertook statistical analysis of epidemiological data; Z.G.T. and R.M.C. undertook statistical analysis of socio-economic data; M.L.-J. performed ecological niche modelling; R.M.C., J.M.B., A.P. and O.H. wrote the paper with inputs from other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Robert M. Christley.

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    Supplementary Notes 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary Figures 1–5, Supplementary References 17

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Fig. 1: Location of the study regions and potential distribution models constructed separately for each breed and projected onto the other.
Fig. 2: Ownership and usage of chickens in the two study regions.
Fig. 3: Household income from chicken production in two regions of Ethiopia.
Fig. 4: Manhattan plots displaying the GWAS results for ascarid and lice infection in two regions of Ethiopia (Horro and Jarso).
Fig. 5: Sustainable chicken production intervention framework.