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EASTBIO Avian resilience in a changing world: maximising guinea fowl welfare and productivity on extensive farms in sub-Saharan Africa


Project Description

Guinea fowl have become a recent gourmet addition to the UK poultry market, promoted as a novel alternative to chicken. However this native African bird has been a fundamental mainstay of nutrition in many African countries, particularly Ghana, for generations. Importantly many fowl are reared under extensive systems, mostly by low income farmers, including women and children. Families produce both eggs and meat within these systems and products are used for both feeding the farm family and are sold to pay for items such as school fees, farm materials and food in the lean season.
However, there is a major issue in this system of farming: juvenile (keet) survival, with estimates across Ghana of between 60-100% within the first eight weeks of life. There are several factors that could influence mortality, aside from predation, which is often managed appropriately by farmers. Work in other poultry species demonstrates that the environmental conditions experienced during both pre- and early post-natal development have a powerful influence on an individual’s ability to cope with challenging environments. These differences in resilience can lead to altered health, fecundity and survival in later life. However, to date there has been no systematic exploration of how developmental conditions impact guinea fowl. This project aims to address this gap in our knowledge. The importance of guinea fowl to the nutrition of farmers and their families cannot be understated. The proposed project therefore represents an opportunity to carry out novel research, to have a significant impact on the welfare of animals and the sustainability of a fragile but essential way of farming.

The project brings together expertise in guinea fowl breeding (Abdul-Rahman), avian physiology, behaviour and development (Spencer) and livestock genetics and genomics (Djikeng) in order to meet three central aims: 1) to establish which factors are most important in mediating guinea fowl development, resilience and survival, 2) to determine candidate physiological pathways that may be responsible for increased resilience and 3) to trial potential cost-effective interventions in the ‘field’ to increase productivity and potentially enhance fowl health/welfare.

The student will initially begin experiments that manipulate environmental conditions (pre- and post-natal) in guinea fowl housed in captivity in the UK (mimicking extensive farming practices and environmental conditions) to determine the effects on juvenile phenotypes, but then move on to work in Ghanaian farm systems and at the University of Development Studies in Tamale to trial any potential interventions. They will gain training in fowl husbandry, welfare and measurement of a range of physiological traits (e.g. circulating hormones, immunocompetence and oxidative stress measures) and behavioural assays (e.g. foraging ability, competitive ability and exploratory behaviour). These measures will allow us to track the health and resilience of animals and determine the most effective ways to maximise health and reduce mortality. In addition we intend to use RNA seq methodology to determine the mechanisms that underlie differences in resilience, tracking changes to a wide range of physiological pathways. The proposed project therefore represents an opportunity to carry out novel, multidisciplinary research, and to have a significant impact on the health and welfare of animals and the well-being of farmers in N. Ghana.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership View Website. This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body.

Apply by 5.00 pm on 13 April 2020 following the instructions on how to apply at: View Website

Informal inquiries to the primary supervisor are very strongly encouraged.

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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