Where did the Ecuadorian Creole Chicken come from?

Genetic study traces the origin of this South American chicken.

The Creole chicken is an important food source in Ecuador. But where did this breed come from? Some scientists argue that these chickens trace their origin to European animals that were introduced during the Spanish colonization in the 15th century. Others think that these chickens already roamed the countrysides in pre-Columbian times. Indeed, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro mentions chickens in his descriptions of indigenous settlements. Moreover, several South American chicken breeds lay blue eggs, a typical Asian feature. Perhaps the chickens arrived in South America from Polynesia (which raises another question: why did the chicken cross the Pacific Ocean?). A recent study in the journal Animals sampled more than 200 chickens across Ecuador to unravel the history of this breed.

auracana

The Araucana chicken breed from Chile © Melani Marfeld | Pixabay

 

An Admixed History

The researchers used 30 microsatellites and a mitochondrial marker (the D-loop) to probe the genetic diversity in Ecuadorian Creole chickens. The analyses revealed a complex history with multiple admixture events. The mitochondrial haplotypes demonstrated that the Ecuadorian chickens originated from at least two sources: a European and an Asian lineage. This suggests that the Creole chickens probably arrived from Polynesia (through Chile) and where later influenced by the introduction of Spanish breeds.

The link with Chile is supported by the genetic influence of the Araucana chicken, a common breed in southern Chile. These chickens produce eggs with blue shells (an Asian feature, remember?) which are highly valued in Ecuador because people associate it with the traditional breeding system.

creole_network

The genetic network of chicken breeds shows that the Ecuadorian Creole breed (ECU) has been influenced by the Chilean Araucana chicken (ARAU) and the Spanish Castellana Negra breed (CASN). For other the chicken breeds, you can consult the original paper. Adapted from Toalombo Vargas et al. (2019) Animals

 

The Spanish Link

What about the Spanish influences? The Spanish colonizers probably brought breeds from southern Spain. And indeed several Spanish breeds from this region, such as the Castellana Negra (CASN in the network), are closely related to the Ecuadorian chickens. In addition, the researchers noticed some genetic signatures from a breed of fighting cocks (so-called combatiente español). These roosters are most likely reared near Ecuadorian chickens, resulting in occasional interbreeding.

 

Diversity

Apart from the origins of the Creole chickens in Ecuador, the researchers also reported some good news for the local people. The Ecuadorian chickens show high levels of genetic diversity and no influence from commercial breeds. This indicates that they are relatively “pure” and represent an important aspect of Ecuadorian culture.

animals-09-00670-g001-550

The mitochondrial network shows 24 different haplotypes in the Ecuadorian Creole chickens, revealing a high level of genetic diversity. From Toalombo Vargas et al. (2019) Animals

 

References

Toalombo Vargas, P. A., León, J. M., Fiallos Ortega, L. R., Martinez, A., Villafuerte Gavilanes, A. A., Delgado, J. V., & Landi, V. (2019). Deciphering the Patterns of Genetic Admixture and Diversity in the Ecuadorian Creole Chicken. Animals9(9), 670.

 

This paper has been added to the Galliformes page.

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