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Current status and future directions of applied behavioral research for animal welfare and conservation.

By R. R. Swaisgood

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The papers that follow in this special issue reflect the state of knowledge and theory in the fields of animal welfare and conservation behavior. A particular focus is placed on how enrichment can be used judiciously to improve welfare and to prepare captive animals for release back to the wild. However, my purpose here is not simply to reiterate what the contributors of this special issue have said, but to provide an overview of the major themes, problems, and opportunities in applied animal behavior related to conservation and welfare. I review major issues in three interrelated areas: captive welfare, captive breeding, and conservation behavior research for wild populations. Despite many advancements in welfare science, one of the most significant impediments to a predictive science of welfare is the need to further refine theories advanced to explain environment-welfare relationships. I provide a brief overview of ten theories that have been proposed to explain good or poor welfare and suggest that they need to be made more conceptually distinct so that clear hypotheses can be articulated, and predictions made and tested. Captive breeding programs for ex situ conservation have borrowed and applied many of the concepts involved in welfare science to great advantage. Other keys to successful breeding programs include applying knowledge of social organization and processes to enhance reproduction; for example, finding the right combination of individuals to get animals breeding. However, behaviorists are only recently learning how to manipulate behavioral mechanisms, such as signaling behavior and mate choice, to optimize captive breeding for conservation. The emerging field of conservation behavior has played a role in captive breeding, but also is poised to play a major role in in situ conservation. Applied behavioral research can illuminate a number of issues important to conservation, including behavioral responses to habitat fragmentation and human disturbance (e.g., pollutants, noise, and light), and human-animal conflict (e.g., crop-raiding). Behavioral decisions made when animals are dispersing and selecting habitat for settlement determine the distribution of animals on the landscape and are important to understand for improving reserve and habitat corridor design. Captive-release and translocation programs require detailed behavioral knowledge to predict responses to novel environments and ensure that animals are adequately prepared for environmental change. This review underscores that many of the behavioral processes of interest to welfare science are also important for conservation behavior: perception, stress, assessment and decision-making rules, and other behavioral and physiological mechanisms. If properly understood, these mechanisms can be manipulated in the service of conservation goals, moving the field of conservation behavior from implication to application. A better integration of the disciplines of animal welfare and conservation behavior - together tackling problems at multiple levels of analysis - will further these goals.

Date 2007
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 102
Issue 3/4
Pages 139-162
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2006.05.027
Author Address Conservation and Research for Endangered Species, Zoological Society of San Diego, P.O. Box 120551, San Diego, CA 92112,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal rights
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Biological resources
  5. Breeding
  6. Breeding programs
  7. Conservation
  8. Enrichment
  9. Environment
  10. Mating behavior
  11. peer-reviewed
  12. Wild animals
  13. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. peer-reviewed