ISAE congress report 12th – 15th July 2016

The International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) congress jointly organised by Scotland’s Rural College, The University of Edinburgh, and World Animal Protection celebrated its 50th Anniversary in the city of Edinburgh this July. Around 550 applied ethologists from all over the world came to join an invigorating meeting which included presentations, posters, lively discussions and networking sessions fuelled by a generous amount of wine and cheese.

The long-term aim of the ISAE is to support the development of basic and applied research into the behaviour of animals used by humans. A key focus of many members’ research is on animal welfare and the role of behavioural science in better understanding and measuring welfare. The work of inspirational scientists, such as Nobel Prize winners Niko Tinbergen, Karl Von Krisch and Konrad Lorenz, has played an integral part in shaping the field of applied ethology and therefore the general theme of the conference was ‘Past and Future: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, in particular focusing on Tinbergen’s four key questions regarding animal behaviour.

Congress was opened by the ISAE president, Birte Nielsen, reminding us to enjoy presenting our work, and to connect with new colleagues at the conference. Mike Appleby and Maja Makagon gave speeches highlighting firstly the history of ISAE and the society’s ethos, and secondly looking forward to the next 50 years and how interdisciplinary collaborative approaches will be key to the progress of applied ethology. The prestigious Wood-Gush Lecture given by Professor Christine Nicol was a thought-provoking presentation emphasising how an understanding of animal decision-making is vital in studies of animal emotion and animal welfare. Professor Nicol concluded the lecture by arguing that a renewed focus on the acquisition of meaningful animal-centred information would be time ‘well spent’. The opening ceremony was followed by a noisy welcome reception with drinks, Scottish Highland dancing and bagpipe music.

The following three days included parallel sessions running throughout both the morning and afternoon. Sessions were framed around Niko Tinbergen’s seminal questions about the causation, development, evolution and function of animal behaviour. Additional sessions considered trade-offs between animal welfare and other issues such as sustainability and environmental management. Sessions inspired by the emerging field of positive welfare, followed by consciousness, cognition and emotion were exciting additions, alongside a session on the development of ‘novel techniques’ including new developments and ideas about how to move the field forward. Other sessions included ‘individual differences’, ‘qualitative research’, and ‘integration of social science and applied ethology’.

Inspiring plenary lectures were given by Marian Dawkins, Elizabeth Paul and Mike Mendl, Daniel Nettle, Hanno Würbel, Tom Smulders and Ruqian Zhao. The topics ranged from animal awareness, the comparative science of emotion, how developmental experiences shape behaviour, improving the validity and reproducibility of animal research, to the integration of functional and mechanistic approaches to behaviour, and the stress-coping characteristics and welfare of pigs in Chinese production systems.

The aim of the ISAE is to ‘promote the study of applied animal behaviour in order to create a better understanding of the interactions between humans and other animals, and to create a balance between animal welfare and the requirements that humans have of other animals’. Celebrating the Society’s 50th Anniversary at this meeting provided a unique opportunity to progress towards achieving these aims, by allowing researchers to create links with others in the field, to promote collaborations, and develop exciting new ideas. The enthusiasm generated by the congress will doubtless propel ISAE and the field of applied ethology forward, it will be exciting to see the progress made over the next 50 years.

Beth Loftus

University of Bristol