Open Access Research article

Australian and Pacific contributions to the genetic diversity of Norfolk Island feral chickens

Shannan M Langford S1, Spiridoula Kraitsek1, Bruce Baskerville2, Simon YW Ho3 and Jaime Gongora1*

Author Affiliations

1 Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

2 Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area, Norfolk Island Government, Kingston, NI 2899, Australia

3 School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-91

Published: 24 September 2013



Norfolk Island has a population of feral chickens which could be the result of domestic stock introduced onto the island by British settlers in 1788. However, there is ongoing debate about their origins because multiple human arrivals to the island may have brought chickens with them. Here we investigate the genetic origins of these feral chickens by sequencing their mitochondrial control region. We infer their phylogenetic relationships using a large dataset of novel sequences from Australian mainland domestic chickens and published sequences from around the world.


Eleven control region haplotypes were found among the Norfolk Island feral and Australian mainland domestic chickens. Six of the Norfolk Island haplotypes fall within haplogroup E, but given the worldwide distribution of this haplogroup, the putative European origin of these chickens requires further investigation. One haplotype common among Norfolk Island and Australian samples belonged to a subgroup of haplogroup D, which appears to be restricted to chickens from Indonesia, Vanuatu and Guam.


Our data show that at least two mitochondrial DNA haplogroups (D and E) have contributed to the genetic make-up of Norfolk Island feral chickens. In addition, we have provided insights into the discrete geographical distribution and diversity of the chicken haplogroup D. In view of the worldwide interest in the characterisation of poultry resources, further assessment of chicken populations of Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific region is warranted.

Norfolk Island; Mitochondrial DNA; Network analysis; Chickens; Ferals