Although previous studies of horses have investigated their facial expressions in specific contexts, e.g. pain, until now there has been no methodology available that documents all the possible facial movements of the horse and provides a way to record all potential facial configurations. This is essential for an objective description of horse facial expressions across a range of contexts that reflect different emotional states. Facial Action Coding Systems (FACS) provide a systematic methodology of identifying and coding facial expressions on the basis of underlying facial musculature and muscle movement. FACS are anatomically based and document all possible facial movements rather than a configuration of movements associated with a particular situation. Consequently, FACS can be applied as a tool for a wide range of research questions. We developed FACS for the domestic horse (Equus caballus) through anatomical investigation of the underlying musculature and subsequent analysis of naturally occurring behaviour captured on high quality video. Discrete facial movements were identified and described in terms of the underlying muscle contractions, in correspondence with previous FACS systems. The reliability of others to be able to learn this system (EquiFACS) and consistently code behavioural sequences was high-and this included people with no previous experience of horses. A wide range of facial movements were identified, including many that are also seen in primates and other domestic animals (dogs and cats). EquiFACS provides a method that can now be used to document the facial movements associated with different social contexts and thus to address questions relevant to understanding social cognition and comparative psychology, as well as informing current veterinary and animal welfare practices.
The aim of our study was to explore the association between dominance rank and body condition in outdoor group-living domestic horses, Equus caballus. Social interactions were recorded using a video camera during a feeding test, applied to 203 horses in 42 herds. Dominance rank was assigned to 194 individuals. The outcome variable body condition score (BCS) was recorded using a 9-point scale. The variables age and height were recorded and considered as potential confounders or effect modifiers. Results were analysed using multivariable linear and logistic regression techniques, controlling for herd group as a random effect. More dominant (p = 0.001) individuals generally had a higher body condition score (p = 0.001) and this association was entirely independent of age and height. In addition, a greater proportion of dominant individuals fell into the obese category (BCS ≥ 7/9, p = 0.005). There were more displacement encounters and a greater level of interactivity in herds that had less variation in age and height, lending strength to the hypothesis that phenotypic variation may aid cohesion in group-living species. In addition there was a strong quadratic relationship between age and dominance rank (p < 0.001), where middle-aged individuals were most likely to be dominant. These results are the first to link behavioural predictors to body condition and obesity status in horses and should prompt the future consideration of behavioural and social factors when evaluating clinical disease risk in group-living animals.
The extinct ‘New World stilt-legged’, or NWSL, equids constitute a perplexing group of Pleistocene horses endemic to North America. Their slender distal limb bones resemble those of Asiatic asses, such as the Persian onager. Previous palaeogenetic studies, however, have suggested a closer relationship to caballine horses than to Asiatic asses. Here, we report complete mitochondrial and partial nuclear genomes from NWSL equids from across their geographic range. Although multiple NWSL equid species have been named, our palaeogenomic and morphometric analyses support the idea that there was only a single species of middle to late Pleistocene NWSL equid, and demonstrate that it falls outside of crown group Equus. We therefore propose a new genus, Haringtonhippus, for the sole species H. francisci. Our combined genomic and phenomic approach to resolving the systematics of extinct megafauna will allow for an improved understanding of the full extent of the terminal Pleistocene extinction event.
Whether non-human animals can recognize human signals, including emotions, has both scientific and applied importance, and is particularly relevant for domesticated species. This study presents the first evidence of horses' abilities to spontaneously discriminate between positive (happy) and negative (angry) human facial expressions in photographs. Our results showed that the angry faces induced responses indicative of a functional understanding of the stimuli: horses displayed a left-gaze bias (a lateralization generally associated with stimuli perceived as negative) and a quicker increase in heart rate (HR) towards these photographs. Such lateralized responses towards human emotion have previously only been documented in dogs, and effects of facial expressions on HR have not been shown in any heterospecific studies. Alongside the insights that these findings provide into interspecific communication, they raise interesting questions about the generality and adaptiveness of emotional expression and perception across species.
The rich fossil record of equids has made them a model for evolutionary processes. Here we present a 1.12-times coverage draft genome from a horse bone recovered from permafrost dated to approximately 560-780 thousand years before present (kyr bp). Our data represent the oldest full genome sequence determined so far by almost an order of magnitude. For comparison, we sequenced the genome of a Late Pleistocene horse (43 kyr bp), and modern genomes of five domestic horse breeds (Equus ferus caballus), a Przewalski’s horse (E. f. przewalskii) and a donkey (E. asinus). Our analyses suggest that the Equus lineage giving rise to all contemporary horses, zebras and donkeys originated 4.0-4.5 million years before present (Myr bp), twice the conventionally accepted time to the most recent common ancestor of the genus Equus. We also find that horse population size fluctuated multiple times over the past 2 Myr, particularly during periods of severe climatic changes. We estimate that the Przewalski’s and domestic horse populations diverged 38-72 kyr bp, and find no evidence of recent admixture between the domestic horse breeds and the Przewalski’s horse investigated. This supports the contention that Przewalski’s horses represent the last surviving wild horse population. We find similar levels of genetic variation among Przewalski’s and domestic populations, indicating that the former are genetically viable and worthy of conservation efforts. We also find evidence for continuous selection on the immune system and olfaction throughout horse evolution. Finally, we identify 29 genomic regions among horse breeds that deviate from neutrality and show low levels of genetic variation compared to the Przewalski’s horse. Such regions could correspond to loci selected early during domestication.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published over 8 years ago
It has recently been shown that some non-human animals can cross-modally recognize members of their own taxon. What is unclear is just how plastic this recognition system can be. In this study, we investigate whether an animal, the domestic horse, is capable of spontaneous cross-modal recognition of individuals from a morphologically very different species. We also provide the first insights into how cross-modal identity information is processed by examining whether there are hemispheric biases in this important social skill. In our preferential looking paradigm, subjects were presented with two people and playbacks of their voices to determine whether they were able to match the voice with the person. When presented with familiar handlers subjects could match the specific familiar person with the correct familiar voice. Horses were significantly better at performing the matching task when the congruent person was standing on their right, indicating marked hemispheric specialization (left hemisphere bias) in this ability. These results are the first to demonstrate that cross-modal recognition in animals can extend to individuals from phylogenetically very distant species. They also indicate that processes governed by the left hemisphere are central to the cross-modal matching of visual and auditory information from familiar individuals in a naturalistic setting.
Referential communication occurs when a sender elaborates its gestures to direct the attention of a recipient to its role in pursuit of the desired goal, e.g. by pointing or showing an object, thereby informing the recipient what it wants. If the gesture is successful, the sender and the recipient focus their attention simultaneously on a third entity, the target. Here we investigated the ability of domestic horses (Equus caballus) to communicate referentially with a human observer about the location of a desired target, a bucket of food out of reach. In order to test six operational criteria of referential communication, we manipulated the recipient’s (experimenter) attentional state in four experimental conditions: frontally oriented, backward oriented, walking away from the arena and frontally oriented with other helpers present in the arena. The rate of gaze alternation was higher in the frontally oriented condition than in all the others. The horses appeared to use both indicative (pointing) and non-indicative (nods and shakes) head gestures in the relevant test conditions. Horses also elaborated their communication by switching from a visual to a tactile signal and demonstrated perseverance in their communication. The results of the tests revealed that horses used referential gestures to manipulate the attention of a human recipient so to obtain an unreachable resource. These are the first such findings in an ungulate species.
The prevalence of Balantidium coli among donkeys in Lahore and adjoining areas was surveyed and a trial conducted to determine the efficacy of two antiprotozoal drugs: secnidazole (Dysen Forte) and Kalonji (Nigella sativa). Four-hundred donkeys were examined, and 73 (18.3%) were found positive for Balantidium coli. A slight decrease in PCV and an increase in Hb values of infected donkeys were found after antiprotozoal treatment. Secnidazole was 89.5% effective for the treatment of equine balantidiasis compared to 40.0% for Nigella sativa. This is the first report of balantidiasis in equines from Pakistan. It is not known if balantidiasis is an emerging problem in equines or whether it is a newly reported infection.
‘The invisible horse’ was the central topic discussed at a conference organised by the equine charity World Horse Welfare in London last month. Gill Harris reports.
Equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) causes respiratory disorders and abortion in equids while EHV-1 regularly causes equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM), a stroke-like syndrome following endothelial cell infection in horses. Both EHV-1 and EHV-9 infections of non-definitive hosts often result in neuronal infection and high case fatality rates. Hence, EHV-1 and EHV-9 are somewhat unusual herpesviruses and lack strict host specificity, and the true extent of their host ranges have remained unclear. In order to determine the seroprevalence of EHV-1 and EHV-9, a sensitive and specific peptide-based ELISA was developed and applied to 428 sera from captive and wild animals representing 30 species in 12 families and five orders. Members of the Equidae, Rhinocerotidae and Bovidae were serologically positive for EHV-1 and EHV-9. The prevalence of EHV-1 in the sampled wild zebra populations was significantly higher than in zoos suggesting captivity may reduce exposure to EHV-1. Furthermore, the seroprevalence for EHV-1 was significantly higher than for EHV-9 in zebras. In contrast, EHV-9 antibody prevalence was high in captive and wild African rhinoceros species suggesting that they may serve as a reservoir or natural host for EHV-9. Thus, EHV-1 and EHV-9 have a broad host range favoring African herbivores and may have acquired novel natural hosts in ecosystems where wild equids are common and are in close contact with other perissodactyls.