Phenotype and animal domestication: A study of dental variation between domestic, wild, captive, hybrid and insular Sus scrofa

Allowen Evin, Keith Dobney, Renate Schafberg, Joseph Owen, Una Vidarsdottir, Greger Larson, Thomas Cucchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)



Identifying the phenotypic responses to domestication remains a long-standing and important question for researchers studying its early history. The great diversity in domestic animals and plants that exists today bears testament to the profound changes that domestication has induced in their ancestral wild forms over the last millennia. Domestication is a complex evolutionary process in which wild organisms are moved to new anthropogenic environments. Although modern genetics are significantly improving our understanding of domestication and breed formation, little is still known about the associated morphological changes linked to the process itself. In order to explore phenotypic variation induced by different levels of human control, we analysed the diversity of dental size, shape and allometry in modern free-living and captive wild, wild x domestic hybrid, domestic and insular Sus scrofa populations. 


We show that domestication has created completely new dental phenotypes not found in wild boar (although the amount of variation amongst domestic pigs does not exceed that found in the wild). Wild boar tooth shape also appears to be biogeographically structured, likely the result of post-glacial recolonisation history. Furthermore, distinct dental phenotypes were also observed among domestic breeds, probably the result of differing types and intensity of past and present husbandry practices. Captivity also appears to impact tooth shape. Wild x domestic hybrids possess second molars that are strictly intermediate in shape between wild boar and domestic pigs (third molars, however, showing greater shape similarity with wild boar) while their size is more similar to domestic pigs. The dental phenotypes of insular Sus scrofa populations found on Corsica and Sardinia today (originally introduced by Neolithic settlers to the islands) can be explained either by feralization of the original introduced domestic swine or that the founding population maintained a wild boar phenotype through time.


Domestication has driven significant phenotypic diversification in Sus scrofa. Captivity (environmental control), hybridization (genome admixture), and introduction to islands all correspond to differing levels of human control and may be considered different stages of the domestication process. The relatively well-known genetic evolutionary history of pigs shows a similar complexity at the phenotypic level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Early online date4 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

We thank the institutions and individuals that provided access to collections, especially the curators of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin; Zoologische Staatssammlung, München; Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Genève; National Museum of Natural History, Washington; The Field Museum, Chicago and The American Museum of Natural History, New-York. We also thank Jean-Denis Vigne, Nelly Gidaszewski, Vincent Debat and Mathieu Joron for fruitful discussions. This work was supported by a research grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, UK (grant number NE/F003382/1).


  • teeth
  • molars
  • geometric morphometrics
  • biogeography
  • artificial selection
  • natural selection


Dive into the research topics of 'Phenotype and animal domestication: A study of dental variation between domestic, wild, captive, hybrid and insular Sus scrofa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this