Domestic chickens (Gallus gallus) are among those species subject to intensive selection for production. Among the most widely used broiler strains are the Ross308 and the Hybro. From the perspective of animal production, Ross308 were superior to Hybro in weight gain, final body mass, and feed conversion. Intensive selection is thought to also cause behavioral changes and to negatively affect cognitive abilities. Up to date, though, no evidence has been provided on broiler breeds. The aim of this study was to explore cognitive differences among Hybro and Ross308 chickens by assessing their ordinal-numerical abilities. Chicks learned learnt to find a food reward in the 4th container in a series of 10 identical and sagittally aligned containers. We designed a standard training procedure ensuring that all chicks received the same amount of training. The chicks underwent two tests: a Sagittal and a Fronto-Parallel one. In the former test, the series was identical to that experienced during training. In the Fronto-Parallel test, the series was rotated by 90°, thus left-to-right oriented, to assess the capability of transferring the learnt rule with a novel spatial orientation. In the Sagittal test, both chicken hybrids selected the 4th item above chance; interestingly the Hybro outperformed the Ross308 chicks. In the Fronto-Parallel test, both strains selected the 4th left and the 4th right container above chance; nevertheless, the Hybro chicks were more accurate. Our results support the hypothesis that intense selection for production can influence animal cognition and behavior, with implications on animal husbandry and welfare.
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