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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Animals, 9(9), 670.
This paper has been added to the Galliformes page.