Submitted to: Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/14/2015
Publication Date: 5/28/2015
Citation: Marchant Forde, J.N. 2015. The science of animal behavior and welfare: challenges, opportunities and global perspective. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 2(16). doi: 10.3389/fvets.2015.00016.
Technical Abstract: Animal welfare science is a relatively new scientific discipline. Originally heavily focused on animal behavior, it has emerged into a truly multi- and inter-disciplinary science, encompassing such sciences as behavior, physiology, pathology, immunology, endocrinology and neuroscience, and influenced by personal and societal ethics. Originally, animal welfare science concentrated on animal welfare at a population or systems level. More recently, there has been greater emphasis on elucidating welfare at an individual animal level, both increasing our fundamental knowledge of how to quantify welfare experimentally using established and novel indicators and also how to apply our new knowledge in the field. There are a number of challenges and opportunities ahead for animal welfare science within its relatively narrow discipline and in the broader context of challenges facing society as a whole. Within discipline, there is increasing research focus within our field on indicators of positive welfare, rather than negative welfare, and on measures of the animal’s affective state, meaning that as our methods and measures evolve and refine, we may see a shift towards a concept of animal welfare that is more in line with definitions of quality of life than our current definitions of animal welfare. We also have to seek to apply our newfound knowledge to improve the welfare of animals under our care. When assessing animal welfare within an experimental setting, there is greater focus on the individual animal and more options in terms of the parameters that can be measured. Out in the ‘field’, be it within a farm, zoo or lab animal facility or with companion animals in homes, stables or shelters, there are many more limitations on the types of data that can be collected and where large facility populations are concerned, there will be focus on the group rather than on individuals within the group. It is important that we develop methods that involve a degree of assessment of the individual given a heterogeneous population and individual differences in the way animals respond to environments and stressors. In a broader context, as the global population continues to grow, there are a number of societal “Big Picture” challenges that are being, and will continue to need to be addressed, and with which animal welfare is intrinsically tied. Thus, as animal welfare scientists, it is more essential than ever that we expand our horizons outside a relatively narrow scientific discipline to interact with, inform and learn from others working on global issues, which themselves are interconnected. Certainly, animal welfare science has a role to play in such issues as food safety and security, sustainability and climate change and this role should be embraced.