Initial evidence of behavioural paedomorphosis in horses

Mostard, Kelly, Goodwin, Deborah, McGreevy, Paul, Levine, Marsha and Wendelaar Bonga, S. (2009) Initial evidence of behavioural paedomorphosis in horses. In, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) International Symposium 2009: Darwinian Selection, Selective Breeding and the Welfare of Animals, Bristol, UK, 22 - 23 Jun 2009. Bristol, UK, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 12pp.


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Paedomorphosis is the retention of juvenile morphology at maturity. It can contribute to the generation of evolutionary change. In dogs, behavioural paedomorphosis accompanies morphological paedomorphosis and can have implications for management and welfare of breeds. The current work explores the possibility of the same occurring in horses. When behaviour of three morphologically diverse breeds of horse was compared during controlled trials, social interactions and foraging behaviour showed interesting differences.

Three single breed groups of familiar adult mares (n=4 or n=5 mares in each group) were observed for a minimum of 2 hours (for n=4) under the following seven conditions, according to a Latin Square design: 1. Open Field test; 2. Owner grooming interaction; 3. Unfamiliar person grooming interaction; 4. Introduction of novel object; 5. Foraging behaviour with access to a familiar forage; 6. Foraging behaviour with access to an unfamiliar forage; 7. Presentation of a familiar gelding of the same breed.

In this preliminary trial, the frequency and total number of visual signals varied among the breeds. Arabians, the most morphologically paedomorphic breed identified in a previous report (Goodwin et al. 2008), were observed to exhibit the least visual signals during social and foraging behaviour (n=12). The least morphologically paedomorphic breeds in the current study (Shetland Ponies and Haflingers) exhibited more visual signals during social and foraging behaviour (respectively n=13 and n=14).

The results of this initial investigation suggest that behavioural paedomorphosis accompanies physical paedomorphosis in horses, as has been previously reported in 10 breeds of dog in comparison with the wolf (Goodwin et al. 1997). This may help to inform breed-specific management and training strategies. Comparison with the ancestral horse is confounded by its extinction.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Related URLs:
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Q Science > QH Natural history
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Psychology > Division of Cognition
ePrint ID: 67192
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
June 2009Published
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2009
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:53

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