Population structure and hybridisation in a population of Hawaiian feral chickens

Heredity (Edinb). 2023 Mar;130(3):154-162. doi: 10.1038/s41437-022-00589-z. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Chickens are believed to have inhabited the Hawaiian island of Kauai since the first human migrations around 1200AD, but numbers have peaked since the tropical storms Iniki and Iwa in the 1980s and 1990s that destroyed almost all the chicken coops on the island and released large numbers of domestic chickens into the wild. Previous studies have shown these now feral chickens are an admixed population between Red Junglefowl (RJF) and domestic chickens. Here, using genetic haplotypic data, we estimate the time of the admixture event between the feral population on the island and the RJF to 1981 (1976-1995), coinciding with the timings of storm Iwa and Iniki. Analysis of genetic structure reveals a greater similarity between individuals inhabiting the northern and western part of the island to RJF than individuals from the eastern part of the island. These results point to the possibility of introgression events between feral chickens and the wild chickens in areas surrounding the Koke'e State Park and the Alaka'i plateau, posited as two of the major RJF reservoirs in the island. Furthermore, we have inferred haplotype blocks from pooled data to determine the most plausible source of the feral population. We identify a clear contribution from RJF and layer chickens of the White Leghorn (WL) breed. This work provides independent confirmation of the traditional hypothesis surrounding the origin of the feral populations and draws attention to the possibility of introgression of domestic alleles into the wild reservoir.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Chickens* / genetics
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Hybridization, Genetic*
  • Islands