Bekoff M. Field Studies and Animal Models: Towards Non-invasive Approaches in Zoology Research and Teaching. Paper presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


While there are numerous ethical concerns in studies of captive animals, there also are ethical issues associated with the study of wild animals. ‘Just being there’ can have enormous impacts. Nonetheless, field studies contribute information on the complexity and richness of animal lives that is very useful to those interested in animal well-being and animal rights. Students of behav-iour often want to be able to identify individuals, assign gender and age, follow individuals as they move about, or record various physiological measurements including heart rate and body temperature. Animals living under field conditions are generally more difficult to study than individuals living in more confined conditions, and various methods (e.g. trapping, marking, fitting telemetric devices) are often used to make them more accessible.

In my talk I will consider some recent examples of how various methods of study can influence the animals being studied (e.g. nesting and reproductive patterns, dominance relationships, mate choice, use of space, vulnerability to predators, feeding and care-giving behaviours) and discuss how models that are generated from these studies can be misleading because of human intrusions that appear to be neutral. I have picked representative studies to show how widespread researcher influences are, and the diversity of species that are affected. An important message I hope to convey clearly is that when behaviour and activity patterns are used as the litmus test for what we call ‘normal species-typical behaviour’, we need to be sure that the behaviour patterns being used truly are an indication of who the individual is in terms of such variables as age, gender, and social status. If the information used to make assessments of well-being is unreliable, then it is likely that the conclusions reached and the animal models generated are also unreliable and can mislead current and future research programs, as well as negatively influence what we teach students. Finally, I provide some examples of non-invasive or minimally-invasive field studies for students, with a view to creating a culture within biology that is more aware of researcher influences, and to reducing the negative impact on individual animals.