Wild Animals

Wild Animal Welfare Research Grants 2022 — Wild Animal Initiative

Wild Animal Initiative is pleased to announce its first round of grants to research teams investigating important and overlooked aspects of wild animal welfare.

Grantmaking is one of the ways the Wild Animal Initiative supports the burgeoning field of wild animal welfare research, which aims to identify ways to reduce the suffering of wild animals from human and natural causes. In 2021, we launched our first call for research projects on the theme of youth well-being and ecology. The majority of animals born in the wild die before reaching adulthood. This makes early childhood experiences disproportionately important in estimating the well-being of a population or community. Yet this life stage is often misunderstood, in part because juveniles and adults of many species have different diets, habitats, and even body shapes.

We were pleased to receive 297 expressions of interest. We invited 50 to submit full proposals, of which 14 projects were selected to receive full or partial funding.

Below are summaries of the seven projects we are fully funding. Additional proposals will receive partial funding to support the elements of the projects most relevant to wildlife welfare, and another set of projects will be supported through our new grant scheme, which is due to launch later this year. spring. Details on partially funded projects and the scholarship program will be released soon.

“Track how the environment affects the well-being of young aquatic salamanders throughout their lives”

Thomas M. Luhring (Wichita State University), Caitlin Gabor (Texas State University), Christopher Schalk (Stephen F. Austin State University); United States

Grant: $162,604

Mermaids are a relatively unknown taxon of salamanders, resulting in their welfare being overlooked as an area of ​​research, but they have great potential to provide valuable data for welfare research. This project will involve the repeated non-invasive sampling of hormones from individual mermaids (Intermediate siren) to determine whether individuals in certain populations are physiologically stressed over their lifetime in response to seasonal and climatic variations, while measuring additional health-related information.

Why we are funding this project:
Juvenile mermaids are the focus of this study because they are particularly vulnerable and because juveniles are so abundant among amphibians. The needs of mermaids change throughout their lives, so it’s plausible that their well-being will change as well. This project will apply a new non-invasive approach to measure the physiological stress of mermaids and its evolution as they develop.

“Developing a method to measure the health and fragility of wild insects”

Jelle Boonekamp, ​​Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, UK

Grant: $63,536

The physiology of model insect species has been widely studied in the laboratory, but data on the health and well-being of insects in the wild are scarce. To fill this knowledge gap, this project aims to develop a system for measuring the fragility of insects, with field crickets (Gryllus campestris) as a model species. Future research could seek to determine the relationship between frailty and well-being, and this project addresses the need for a frailty index assessment tool.

Why we are funding this project:
In order to improve the welfare of invertebrates, we must first understand how to measure their welfare. Although we still know little about the minds of insects, physical health is an important component of well-being. This project will develop a model to assess the health of each wild insect.

“Estimating the Impacts of Agricultural Land Management on Invertebrate Welfare”

Ruth Feber, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK

Grant: $58,448

This study will adapt the QALY (Quality Adjusted Life Year) methodology to explore how agricultural activities affect the well-being of wild invertebrates, using Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) as a model group.

Why we are funding this project:
Farms occupy nearly half of the world’s habitable land, but there is a lack of data on how farm management practices might impact wild animals, especially invertebrates. In order to improve invertebrate welfare, we must first understand how to measure welfare. This project will explore a model to quantify the health and well-being of wild insects.

“Investigating Sensitivity and Emotional States in Wild Octopuses”

Michaella Pereira Andrade, Federal University of ABC, Brazil

Grant: $37,959

It is now more widely accepted than ever that cephalopods (octopuses, squids and nautiluses) exhibit sentience. But we still do not know how their sensitivity has evolved and how it is characterized. In this project, researchers will observe juvenile octopuses (island octopus) in a natural nursery to assess the relationship between their behavior, personalities, ecological interactions, and emotional expressions. They will also analyze published data to estimate when octopus sentience may have evolved and when, between birth and adulthood, individuals develop sentience.

Why we are funding this project:
We care about the well-being of animals in proportion to their ability to feel well-being, that is, their sensitivity. Understanding which animals are susceptible and at which stages of development is therefore fundamental to our work. This project is particularly interesting because it will teach us a lot about the lives of juvenile octopuses and the extent to which welfare impacts are influenced by personality traits.

“Using thermal imaging to study early stress in birds”

Paul Jerem, Tufts University, USA

Grant: $37,780

Animal stress responses have evolved to increase survival by stimulating behaviors that reduce exposure to difficult situations. However, young birds that are completely dependent on their parents are unable to act to change their circumstances, potentially exposing them to the adverse effects of chronic stress. These species are known to suppress certain aspects of their stress physiology during development. It remains unclear whether other parts of the system remain active and could serve as useful indicators for efforts to improve well-being early in life. This project aims to investigate this possibility in juvenile house sparrows (Skip Domestic) using a new non-invasive method to infer internal state – thermal imaging of body surface temperatures.

Why we are funding this project:
We want to understand the well-being of minors, but developmental changes can make it difficult to compare well-being between minors and adults. This project will calibrate a non-invasive welfare proxy that can be applied to juvenile adult and altricial birds.

“Understanding the links between the welfare and survival of wild fish into adulthood”

Raf Freire, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Australia

Grant: $21,500

Many freshwater fish populations have severely declined due to human-caused changes to their environment. This study will examine how differences in water quality and the presence of potential predators affect a behavioral indicator of welfare—judgment bias—in juvenile Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii). In the future, data on how juvenile fish respond to these factors could guide interventions to help juvenile fish survive to adulthood in the wild.

Why we are funding this project:
The vast majority of wild fish do not survive to adulthood, but little is known about their well-being as juveniles and how this might affect their survival. This project will address this problem by studying the effects of multiple aspects of habitat quality on the affective state of juvenile Murray cod.

“Assessing the impact of injury and disease on the welfare and survival of wild birds”

Katie LaBarbera, San Francisco Bay Area Bird Observatory, USA

Grant: $20,000

Wildlife rescue centers are essential in helping injured birds recover. Rescue professionals must decide whether each rehabilitated bird is likely to survive and what level of welfare it will experience if released into the wild. In this project, researchers will analyze an existing long-term banding dataset with the aim of improving the strategies used by wildlife rescues and bird banders to improve post-release welfare and, in doing so, discover how injuries affect the lifelong well-being of wild birds.

Why we are funding this project:
With thousands of wildlife rehabilitation centers in the United States alone, this study could provide information that would allow wildlife rehabilitation staff to make data-driven decisions about their bird patients. This project also advances one of our main goals – to understand what wildlife life is like – using an existing and humanely acquired data set.

These grants were made possible through the generous support of Open philanthropy. To discuss how your donation or grant could continue to advance the science of wildlife welfare, please contact Acting Executive Director Cameron Meyer Shorb.

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