Feralisation—The Understudied Counterpoint to Domestication

  • R. Henriksen
  • E. Gering
  • D. WrightEmail author


Feralisation is a complex process that occurs when a domestic population is returned to the wild. It impacts species invasion biology, speciation, conservation and hybridisation and can be thought of as the reverse of domestication. Domestication has been an area of intense interest and study ever since Darwin, and useful as a model for evolution and the effects of strong directional selection. Despite domestication being used to identify genes affecting a large number of traits that change with selection, little is known about the genomic changes associated with feralisation. Much of the current work on the genetics of feralisation has focused on the detection of early hybrids (F1 or F2) between wild and domestic populations. Feralisation can lead to large changes in morphology, behaviour and many other traits, with the process of feralisation involving the sudden return of both natural and sexual selection. Such evolutionary forces influence predatory, foraging and mate choice decisions and exert strong effects on once domesticated, now feral, individuals. As such, feralisation provides a unique opportunity to observe the genomic and phenotypic responses to selection from a known (domesticated) standpoint and identify the genes underlying these selective targets. In this review, we summarise what is known in particular regarding the genomics of feralisation, and also the changes that feralisation has induced on brain size and behaviour.



The research was carried out within the framework of the Linköping University Neuro-network. The project was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council (VR), the European Research Council (advanced research grant GENEWELL 322206, consolidator grant FERALGEN 772874) and the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. DBI-0939454. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  1. Adams J, Leonard J, Waits L (2003) Widespread occurrence of a domestic dog mitochondrial DNA haplotype in southeastern US coyotes. Mol Ecol 12:541–546CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Allendorf FW, Leary RF, Spruell P, Wenburg JK (2001) The problems with hybrids: setting conservation guidelines. Trends Ecol Evol 16:613–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baratti M, Ammannati M, Magnelli C, Dessì-Fulgheri F (2005) Introgression of chukar genes into a reintroduced red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) population in central Italy. Anim Genet 36:29–35CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Barilani M, Bernard-Laurent A, Mucci N, Tabarroni C, Kark S, Garrido JAP, Randi E (2007) Hybridisation with introduced chukars (Alectoris chukar) threatens the gene pool integrity of native rock (A. graeca) and red-legged (A. rufa) partridge populations. Biol Conserv 137:57–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barlow C (1999) Rewilding for evolution. Wild Earth 9:53–56Google Scholar
  6. Beaumont M, Barratt E, Gottelli D, Kitchener A, Daniels M, Pritchard J, Bruford M (2001) Genetic diversity and introgression in the Scottish wildcat. Mol Ecol 10:319–336CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Browne RA, Griffin CR, Chang PR, Hubley M, Martin AE (1993) Genetic divergence among populations of the Hawaiian Duck, Laysan Duck, and Mallard. Auk 49–56Google Scholar
  8. Clop A et al (2006) A mutation creating a potential illegitimate microRNA target site in the myostatin gene affects muscularity in sheep. Nat Genet 38:813–818CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Darwin C (1859) The origin of species. Mentor, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Darwin C (1868) The variation of animals and plants under domestication. John Murray, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Derenne P, Mougin J (1976) DONNÉES CRANIOMÉTRIQUES SUR LE LAPIN ET LE CHAT HARET DE L’ ILE AUX COCHONS, ARCHIPEL CROZET (46° 06′ S, 50° 14′ E). Mammalia 40:495–516Google Scholar
  12. Dierendonck MC, Vries MF (1996) Ungulate reintroductions: experiences with the takhi or Przewalski horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) in Mongolia. Conserv Biol 10:728–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Donlan J (2005) Re-wilding north America. Nature 436:913–914CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Ebinger P, Löhmer R (1984) Comparative quantitative investigations on brains of rock doves, domestic and urban pigeons (Columba 1. livia) 1. J Zool Syst Evol Res 22:136–145Google Scholar
  15. Ebinger P, Löhmer R (1986) A volumetric comparison of brains between greylag geese (Anser anser L.) and domestic geese. J Hirnforsch 28:291–299Google Scholar
  16. Ebinger P, Röhrs M (1994) Volumetric analysis of brain structures, especially of the visual system in wild and domestic turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). J Hirnforsch 36:219–228Google Scholar
  17. Fabbri E et al (2007) From the Apennines to the Alps: colonization genetics of the naturally expanding Italian wolf (Canis lupus) population. Mol Ecol 16:1661–1671CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Fleming I, Einum S (1997) Experimental tests of genetic divergence of farmed from wild Atlantic salmon due to domestication. ICES J Mar Sci 54:1051–1063Google Scholar
  19. Flux JE, Fullagar PJ (1992) World distribution of the Rabbit Oryctolagus funiculus on islands. Mamm Rev 22:151–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fujii J et al (1991) Identification of a mutation in porcine ryanodine receptor associated with malignant hyperthermia. Science 253:448–451CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Gamborg C, Gremmen B, Christiansen SB, Sandøe P (2010) De-domestication: ethics at the intersection of landscape restoration and animal welfare. Environ Values 57–78Google Scholar
  22. Gering E, Johnsson M, Willis P, Getty T, Wright D (2015) Mixed-ancestry and admixture in Kauai’s feral chickens: invasion of domestic genes into ancient Red Junglefowl reservoirs. Mol Ecol 24:2112–2124CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Gethöffer F, Sodeikat G, Pohlmeyer K (2007) Reproductive parameters of wild boar (Sus scrofa) in three different parts of Germany. Eur J Wildl Res 53:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goedbloed D et al (2013a) Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism analysis reveals recent genetic introgression from domestic pigs into Northwest European wild boar populations. Mol Ecol 22:856–866CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Goedbloed DJ et al (2013b) Reintroductions and genetic introgression from domestic pigs have shaped the genetic population structure of Northwest European wild boar. BMC Genet 14:43CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Gonda A, Herczeg G, Merilä J (2013) Evolutionary ecology of intraspecific brain size variation: a review. Ecol Evol 3:2751–2764CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Grobet L et al (1997) A deletion in the bovine myostatin gene causes the double-muscled phenotype in cattle. Nat GenetGoogle Scholar
  28. Haase B et al (2009) Seven novel KIT mutations in horses with white coat colour phenotypes. Anim Genet 40:623–629CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Hager R, Lu L, Rosen GD, Williams RW (2012) Genetic architecture supports mosaic brain evolution and independent brain–body size regulation. Nat Commun 3:1079CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Hampton JO et al (2004) Molecular techniques, wildlife management and the importance of genetic population structure and dispersal: a case study with feral pigs. J Appl Ecol 41:735–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hayes BJ, Pryce J, Chamberlain AJ, Bowman PJ, Goddard ME (2010) Genetic architecture of complex traits and accuracy of genomic prediction: coat colour, milk-fat percentage, and type in Holstein cattle as contrasting model traits. PLoS Genet 6:e1001139CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Henriksen R, Johnsson M, Andersson L, Jensen P, Wright D (2016) The domesticated brain: genetics of brain mass and brain structure in an avian species. Sci Rep 6:p.34031.
  33. Hutchings JA, Fraser DJ (2008) The nature of fisheries-and farming-induced evolution. Mol Ecol 17:294–313CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Jensen P, Wright D (2014) Behavioral genetics and animal domestication. In: Grandin T, Deesing MJ (eds) Genetics and behavior of domestic animals. Academic Press, London, pp 41–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Johnsson M et al (2012) A sexual ornament in chickens is affected by pleiotropic alleles at HAO1 and BMP2, selected during domestication. PLoS Genet 8:e1002914. Scholar
  36. Johnsson M et al (2014) The role of pleiotropy and linkage in genes affecting a sexual ornament and bone allocation in the chicken. Mol Ecol 23:2275–2286CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Johnsson M, Jonsson KB, Andersson L, Jensen P, Wright D (2015a) Genetic regulation of bone metabolism in the chicken: similarities and differences to mammalian systems. PLoS Genet 11:e1005250. Scholar
  38. Johnsson M, Jonsson KB, Andersson L, Jensen P, Wright D (2015b) Quantitative trait locus and genetical genomics analysis identifies putatively causal genes for fecundity and brooding in the chicken. G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics.
  39. Johnsson M et al (2016a) Feralisation targets different genomic loci to domestication in the chicken. Nat Commun 7:12950.
  40. Johnsson M, Williams MJ, Jensen P, Wright D (2016b) Genetical genomics of behavior: a novel chicken genomic model for anxiety behavior. Genetics 202:327–340Google Scholar
  41. Johnsson M, Henriksen R, Fogelholm J, Höglund A, Jensen P, Wright D (2018a) Genetics and genomics of social behavior in a chicken model. Genetics. Scholar
  42. Johnsson M, Henriksen R, Höglund A, Fogelholm J, Jensen P, Wright D (2018b) Genetical genomics of growth in a chicken model. BMC Genom 19:72. Scholar
  43. Kidd A, Bowman J, Lesbarreres D, Schulte-Hostedde A (2009) Hybridization between escaped domestic and wild American mink (Neovison vison). Mol Ecol 18:1175–1186CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Kruska D (2005) On the evolutionary significance of encephalization in some eutherian mammals: effects of adaptive radiation, domestication and feralization. Brain Behav Evol 65:73–108CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Kruska D, Röhrs M (1974) Comparative-quantitative investigations on brains of feral pigs from the Galapagos Islands and of European domestic pigs. Zeitschrift für Anatomie und Entwicklungsgeschichte 144:61–73CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Kruska D, Sidorovich V (2003) Comparative allometric skull morphometrics in mink (Mustela vison Schreber, 1777) of Canadian and Belarus origin; taxonomic status. Mamm Biol-Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 68:257–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Larson G et al (2014) Current perspectives and the future of domestication studies. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:6139–6146CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Lynch M (1991) The genetic interpretation of inbreeding depression and outbreeding depression. Evolution 45:622–629CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Lynch M, O’hely M (2001) Captive breeding and the genetic fitness of natural populations. Conserv Genet 2:363–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McGinnity P et al (2003) Fitness reduction and potential extinction of wild populations of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, as a result of interactions with escaped farm salmon. Proc R Soc Lond B: Biol Sci 270:2443–2450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McOrist S, Kitchener AC (1994) Current threats to the European wildcat, Felis silvestris, in Scotland. Ambio (Sweden)Google Scholar
  52. Menotti-Raymond M et al (2003) Second-generation integrated genetic linkage/radiation hybrid maps of the domestic cat (Felis catus). J Hered 94:95–106CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Milan D et al (2000) A mutation in PRKAG3 associated with excess glycogen content in pig skeletal muscle. Science 288:1248–1251CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Negro J, Torres M, Godoy J (2001) RAPD analysis for detection and eradication of hybrid partridges (Alectoris rufa × A. graeca) in Spain. Biol Cons 98:19–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nichols CR (1991) A comparison of the reproductive and behavioural differences in feral and domestic Japanese quail. University of British ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  56. Oliveira R, Godinho R, Randi E, Ferrand N, Alves PC (2008) Molecular analysis of hybridisation between wild and domestic cats (Felis silvestris) in Portugal: implications for conservation. Conserv Genet 9:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Olsson M et al (2011) A novel unstable duplication upstream of HAS2 predisposes to a breed-defining skin phenotype and a periodic fever syndrome in Chinese Shar-Pei dogs. PLoS Genet 7:e1001332CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  58. Pierpaoli M et al (2003) Genetic distinction of wildcat (Felis silvestris) populations in Europe, and hybridization with domestic cats in Hungary. Mol Ecol 12:2585–2598CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Price EO (2002) Animal domestication and behaviour. CABI Publishing, WallingfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Price EO, King JA (1968) Domestication and adaptation. In: Hafez ESE (ed) Adaptation of domestic animals. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, pp 34–45Google Scholar
  61. Randi E (2008) Detecting hybridization between wild species and their domesticated relatives. Mol Ecol 17:285–293CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Randi E, Lucchini V (1998) Organization and evolution of the mitochondrial DNA control region in the avian genus Alectoris. J Mol Evol 47:449–462CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Randi E, Lucchini V (2002) Detecting rare introgression of domestic dog genes into wild wolf (Canis lupus) populations by Bayesian admixture analyses of microsatellite variation. Conserv Genet 3:29–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Randi E, Pierpaoli M, Beaumont M, Ragni B, Sforzi A (2001) Genetic identification of wild and domestic cats (Felis silvestris) and their hybrids using Bayesian clustering methods. Mol Biol Evol 18:1679–1693CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Ren J et al (2011) A missense mutation in PPARD causes a major QTL effect on ear size in pigs. PLoS Genet 7:e1002043CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  66. Rhymer JM, Simberloff D (1996) Extinction by hybridization and introgression. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 27:83–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rose KM, Wodzicka-Tomaszewska M, Cumming R (1985) Agonistic behaviour, responses to a novel object and some aspects of maintenance behaviour in feral-strain and domestic chickens. Appl Anim Behav Sci 13:283–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Roy MS, Geffen E, Smith D, Ostrander EA, Wayne RK (1994) Patterns of differentiation and hybridization in North American wolflike canids, revealed by analysis of microsatellite loci. Mol Biol Evol 11:553–570PubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Rubin C-J et al (2010) Whole-genome resequencing reveals loci under selection during chicken domestication. Nature 464:587–591CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Schmutz S, Berryere T (2007) Genes affecting coat colour and pattern in domestic dogs: a review. Anim Genet 38:539–549CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Schultz W (1969) Zur Kenntnis des Hallstrom-hunds (Canis hallstromi, 1957). Zool Anz 183:47–72Google Scholar
  72. Statham M, Middleton M (1987) Feral pigs on Flinders Island. In: Papers and proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, pp 121–124Google Scholar
  73. Thomson VA et al (2014) Using ancient DNA to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens across the Pacific. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:4826–4831CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Van Laere A-S et al (2003) A regulatory mutation in IGF2 causes a major QTL effect on muscle growth in the pig. Nature 425:832–836CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Verardi A, Lucchini V, Randi E (2006) Detecting introgressive hybridization between free-ranging domestic dogs and wild wolves (Canis lupus) by admixture linkage disequilibrium analysis. Mol Ecol 15:2845–2855CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Wilmshurst JM, Hunt TL, Lipo CP, Anderson AJ (2011) High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108:1815–1820. Scholar
  77. Wright D et al (2010) The genetic architecture of domestication in the chicken: effects of pleiotropy and linkage. Mol Ecol 19:5140–5156CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Wright D et al (2012) Onset of sexual maturity in female chickens is genetically linked to loci associated with fecundity and a sexual ornament. Reprod Domest Anim 47:31–36. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AVIAN Behavioural Genomics and Physiology GroupIFM Biology, Linköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityMichiganUSA

Personalised recommendations