Variation in sexual dimorphism (SD) is particularly marked in meat-type chickens. This paper investigates the genetic basis of SD in an important economic trait, i.e. body weight (BW) at 35 days of age, in broilers by applying quantitative genetic analysis. A large dataset comprising 203,323 BW records of a commercial line of broiler chicken was used. First, a bivariate approach was employed treating BW as a sex-specific trait. During this approach, seven bivariate models were applied and variances due to direct additive genetic, maternal genetic and maternal environmental effects were estimated via the restricted maximum likelihood method. The best-fitting model included direct additive genetic, maternal genetic and maternal environmental effects with a direct–maternal genetic covariance. Differences between male and female direct heritabilities were non-significant (0.28 vs. 0.29 for males and females, respectively), implying no need for sex-specific selection strategies. The direct–maternal genetic correlation was more strongly negative in males than in females (−0.72 vs. −0.56), implying a more profound antagonism between direct additive and maternal genetic effects in this particular gender. The direct genetic correlation of BW between the two sexes was as high as 0.91, i.e. only slightly lower than unity. Second, variance components and genetic parameters of two measures of SD, i.e. the weight difference (Δ) and the weight ratio (R), between the genders were estimated. Direct heritabilities for both measures were significantly different to 0 but of low magnitude (0.04). Apart from the additive–maternal covariance, no other random effects were found to be of importance for Δ and R. The results of the present study suggest that only minimal selection responses due to the selection ofΔand/or R and a small capacity for amplifying or reducing the BW differences between the sexes are to be expected in this specific population. Furthermore, selection pressure on BW is expected to amplify SD.
- Direct-maternal genetic correlation
- Maternal effects
- Sexual dimorphism