Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

The early-life environment of a pig shapes the phenotypes of its social partners in adulthood

Canario, L.; Lundeheim, N.; Bijma, P.


Social interactions among individuals are abundant, both in natural and domestic populations, and may affect phenotypes of individuals. Recent research has demonstrated that the social effect of an individual on the phenotype of its social partners may have a genetic component, known as an indirect genetic effect (IGE). Little is known, however, of nongenetic factors underlying such social effects. Early-life environments often have large effects on phenotypes of the individuals themselves later in life. Offspring development in many mammalian species, for example, depends on interactions with the mother and siblings. In domestic pigs, individuals sharing the same juvenile environment develop similar body weight later in life. We, therefore, hypothesized that offspring originating from the same early-life environment also develop common social skills that generate early-life social effects (ELSEs) that affect the phenotypes of their social partners later in life. We, therefore, quantified IGEs and ELSEs on growth in domestic pigs. Results show that individuals from the same early-life environment express similar social effects on the growth of their social partners, and that such ELSEs shape the growth rate of social partners more than IGEs. Thus, the social skills that individuals develop in early life have a long-lasting impact on the phenotypes of social partners. Early-life and genetic social effects were independent of the corresponding direct effects of offspring on their own growth, indicating that individuals may enhance the growth of their social partners without a personal cost. Our findings also illustrate how research devoted to quantifying IGEs may miss nongenetic and potentially confounded social mechanisms which may bias the estimates of IGEs.


genetics; phenotypes; pigs

Published in

2017, volume: 118, number: 6, pages: 534-541

Authors' information

Canario, Laurianne
National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics
Bijma, Piter
Wageningen University

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)