Welcome to the Jensen group!
We study the behaviour of domesticated animals. Our aim is to understand two fundamental aspects:
- How is behaviour affected by the domestication process, and
- How can we use behaviour to assess the welfare of animals kept by humans
Domestication as model system
We use domestication as a means to study the evolution of behaviour by comparing domestic animals with their wild ancestors. This allows us to analyse genetic and other mechanisms that shape behaviour.
In our research we work mainly with chickens. For example, we study domestication effects by selecting ancestral red junglefowl for reduced fear of humans, and we study the long-term effects of stress encountered early in life.
Another important area is the behaviour of dogs. Dogs are the oldest domesticated species, descending from wild wolves, and have evolved a set of unique behaviours making them well adapted to live with humans. We have for example mapped genes that affect their sociality towards people.
Genetics and epigenetics of behaviour
One important research field concerns the epigenetics of behaviour. Epigenetic variation, unlike strict genetic variation, is dynamic and responds to environmental input. For example, an animal that experiences stress will obtain epigenetic modifications to its genome, which in turn will affect how it responds in other situations.
Some epigenetic changes can be transferred across generations. Thus the stress experienced by one individual may change the behaviour and biology of its descendants, perhaps even several generations away.
In our chicken facilities, we control our research from the point of breeding and hatching the animals, through infancy in the university's own chicken coops, to our behaviour laboratories equipped to handle advanced behaviour recording, to the physiology laboratories equipped for various types of surgery and measurements on animals. And all of this is combined with a world class molecular genetics lab.
We are one of the few labs in the world that keep a breeding population of red junglefowl, the wild ancestor to the chicken. Thus we are able to do comparisons directly to a wild ancestor, as well as breed crosses between modern chickens and their wild ancestors for genetic experiments.
We collaborate with hundreds of private dog owners throughout Sweden, who kindly participate in various behavioural tests and donate DNA from their pets.