Scientific Events and Outreach Coordinator Wild Animal Initiative Fairfax, Virginia, United States
Animal welfare literature demonstrates that an animal's behavior is strongly influenced by their welfare, and subjective experiences. Behavior is a fundamental component of ecology: an animal’s behavior mediates their interactions within and between species and with the abiotic environment. Behavior consequently links biotic and abiotic factors together and determines biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Thus, changes in an animals’ behavior can influence ecosystem structure, dynamics, and function.Consequently, understanding an animal's perspective is pivotal to the understanding of its ecology and vice versa. By recognizing animals’ subjective experiences ecologists can not only better understand animals’ welfare but also their ecology, including motivations underlying migration and breeding behaviors. Further, applying a welfare lens to the study of wild animals in their wild landscapes can provide insights to the future impacts of climate change. In this talk, we will describe ways in which applying a welfare lens can enhance understanding across a range of ecological studies from behavioral ecology to community and ecosystem dynamics. Whilst there is an increasing number of tools and techniques for assessing welfare in captive environments, monitoring and measuring welfare in the wild is not so straightforward. In this talk we also describe some of the challenges for monitoring welfare in the wild and how to overcome them. Further, we describe how integrating welfare-focused behavioral assessments can both provide indicators of welfare and enhance the study of behavioral ecology. Finally, we describe how wild animal welfare science can enhance both wildlife management and conservation practice, by providing some examples of how welfare assessment can be integrated into interventions, such as headstarting, translocation, population management, and disease management.