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Alexandra Harlander

Position/Title: Assistant Professor
email: aharland@uoguelph.ca
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 52021
Office: ANNU 247

Personal site link

Dr. Harlander's interest for the impact of husbandry on animal behaviour and physiology blossomed from her childhood, growing up in the Austrian Alps around farm animals. Naturally, her passion for animals and her interest in their health and welfare led her to study veterinary medicine. Presently, Dr. Harlander studies the welfare of domestic birds, the most numerous farmed animal worldwide. For her innovative research, she was awarded the Burnbrae Farms Professorship in Poultry Welfare.

Academic History

  • Mag. med. vet/ DVM (University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, A)
  • Dr. med. vet/ DVSc (University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, A)
  • PD/PhD (University of Hohenheim, D)
  • Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) European Veterinary Specialist in Welfare Science, Ethics and Law


  • BIOL 1050 Biology of Plants and Animals in Managed Ecosystems
  • ANSC 1210 Principles of Animal Care and Welfare
  • UNIV 6030 Selected Topics in Animal Welfare

Research Impact

Dr. Harlander developed and now leads an innovative and interdisciplinary research program that explores the objective assessment of bird welfare. Her research considers the health and motivations (preferences tests, including demand analysis) of birds to provide insight on how the birds perceive their environment. In doing so, her research has shed light on how environmental changes can be made to improve the quality of life for domestic birds. In conjunction with her research program, she mentors graduate and undergraduate students; this allows her the opportunity to instruct and inspire the next generation of animal scientists, agricultural engineers and veterinarians on identifying and solving domestic bird welfare problems.

Current Research Projects

Integrity of the integument: Feather damage in birds kept for egg laying

One of Dr. Harlander's current goals is to determine why chickens pull out each other's feathers. She also wants to understand how eating feathers may affect a chicken's digestive tract, their gut microbiota and their amino acid metabolism. In addition, Dr. Harlander is fascinated with the connection between the digestive tract and the brain, and how interactions between the two affects behaviour. As North American and European farmers transition to alternative housing systems for laying hens, Dr. Harlander's team is conducting the first ever survey on risk factors for feather-pecking behaviour in birds kept for egg laying in North America.

Skeletal health in hens: Keel bone damage is a welfare problem

A high percentage of birds kept for egg-laying develop keel (breast) bone fractures. Dr. Harlander's research considers non-traumatic activities as a major cause of bone damage. Her project focuses on the biomechanics and physiology of bipedal/wing locomotion and how muscle use affects skeletal health to uncover any causes and solutions for this welfare problem.

Living among excreta waste: Provide the bird's perspective

Most birds live on the same bedding substrate mixed with excreta for their entire lives and/or are exposed to chronic indoor air pollution. Dr. Harlander is studying bird's choices between excreta-free and polluted environments and how this affects their health and behavior.

Featured Publications

  • Birkl, P., Franke, L., Rodenburg, T. B., Ellen, E., Harlander-Matauschek, A., 2017. A role for plasma aromatic amino acids in injurious pecking behavior in laying hens. Physiology and Behavior, 175, 88-96. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.03.041
  • Birkl, P., Kjaer, J. B., Szkotnicki, W., Forsythe, P., Harlander-Matauschek, A., 2017. Acute Tryptophan Depletion: First Method Validation in an Avian Species (Gallus gallus domesticus). Poultry Science 96(9), 3021-3025. doi: 10.3382/ps/pex142
  • LeBlanc, C., Tobalske, B., Szkotnicki, B., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2017. Locomotor behavior of chickens anticipating incline walking. Front. Vet. Sci. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2017.00233
  • LeBlanc, C., Tobalske, B., Bowley, S., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2017. Development of locomotion over inclined surfaces in laying hens. Animal. 2017 Aug 7:1-12. doi: 10.1017/S1751731117001896.
  • Pokharel, B., Santos, V., Wood, D., Van Heyst, B., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2017. Laying hens discriminate artificially and naturally sourced ammonia gas. Poultry Science, pex273, https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pex273
  • Pokharel, B., Boecker, I., Kwon, I. Y., Jeyachanthiran, L., McBride, P., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2017. How does the presence of excreta affect the behavior of laying hens on scratch pads? Poultry Science, pex375, https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pex375
  • LeBlanc, S., Tobalske, B., Quinton, M., Springthorpe, D., Szkotnicki, B., Wuerbel, H.and Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2016. Physical health problems and environmental challenges influence balancing behaviour in laying hens. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153477. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153477.
  • Kozak, M., Tobalske, B., Springthorpe, D., Szkotnicki, B., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2016. Development of physical activity levels in laying hens in three-dimensional aviaries. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 185, 66-72.
  • Kozak, M., Tobalske, B., Martins, C., Bowley, S., Wuerbel, H., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2016. Use of space by domestic chicks housed in complex aviaries. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 181, 115-121.
  • Harlander-Matauschek, A., Rodenburg, B., Sandilands, V., Tobalske, B., Toscano, M. 2015. Causes of keel bone damage and their solutions in laying hens. World's Poultry Science Journal, 71, 461-472.
  • Meyer, B., Zentek, J., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2013. Differences in intestinal microbial metabolites in laying hens with high and low levels of repetitive feather-pecking behaviour. Physiology and Behaviour, 110-111, 96-101.
  • Kriegseis, I., Bessei, W., Meyer, B., Zentek, J., Würbel, H., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2012. Feather-pecking response of laying hens to feather and cellulose-based rations fed during rearing. Poultry Science 91(7), 1514-1521.
  • Meyer, B., Bessei, W., Vahjen, W., Zentek, J., Harlander-Matauschek, A. 2011. Dietary inclusion of feathers affects intestinal microbiota and microbial metabolites in growing Leghorn-type chickens. Poultry Science 91 (7), 1506-13.