Sixth Annual Meeting of the AWRN
Thursday 15th and Friday 16th July 2021 – Online
Due to Covid restrictions the meeting took place using Zoom, enabling more delegates than ever to join in with the meeting.
Session 1 – Welcome and New Developments in Animal Welfare Science talks
Mike Mendl (Network Lead) welcomed everyone to the meeting and gave an update on the network and all the progress made since the last Annual Meeting. The session on ‘New Developments in Animal Welfare Science’ was then launched with Sara Hintze talking about flow, which is the perfect balance between skill and challenge. Most of us experience flow when engrossed in a favourite hobby but Sara gave us some insights to the potential to study this in animals, along with the challenges in doing so. Tamzin Furtado then gave us a whistlestop tour of the different foraging systems used for horses in the UK and their potential impacts on both welfare and their environment. Following this Helen Lambert got us all thinking about insect cognition, how little their potential for sentience has been studied and the implications for producing insects for feed and food. Janire Castellano Bueno then described her study of inactive not alert as a measure of welfare in rhesus macaques. Their study highlighted the importance of distinguishing between inactive alert and inactive not alert in ethograms of future studies. The final talk in this session was Andrew Knight presenting a review of humane teaching alternatives to using animals in veterinary training, showing that they can be incredibly effective and hopefully making us all consider when and how they could be utilised. The final part of Session 1 was speed networking, in which delegates were randomly distributed into breakout rooms every 5 minutes giving them the opportunity to get to know or catch up with other delegates. Whilst everyone missed the opportunity to sit down and have a coffee or lunch with new connections, the actual networking seemed to work quite well in Zoom and was definitely less noisy and chaotic than the in-person version!
Session 2 – Using principles from behavioural ecology to address applied animal welfare issues
This session was kicked off by a joint plenary from Gareth Arnott (Future Network Lead / Queen’s University Belfast) and Simon Turner (SRUC). Gareth first explained some theories from behavioural ecology research, including game theory and mutual assessment strategies and how these theories can be applied to welfare issues such as aggression in pigs. Simon then took over to describe their research in which they examine these theories and try to understand why some pigs are highly aggressive and whether they are capable of using mutual assessment. The second plenary of this session was by Edward Codling on how movement ecology can inform animal welfare research. He gave a detailed description of the history and concepts behind movement ecology, how it is applied to his research on dairy cow lameness, social interactions and temperature plus how it can apply to zoo elephant welfare. Amelia Lewis then gave a really interesting talk on how attachment theory might be infantilising companion animals and suggesting the use of behavioural-ecology based paradigms as an alternative for the assessment and management of companion animals. Lucy Oldham then described her research on aggression in pigs, focusing on why some losers keep on fighting and whether it relates to their inherent aggressiveness. Their findings were that aggressiveness did not inhibit winner-loser effect, therefore there is scope for learning to reduce aggressive behaviour. The final talk for this session was Jack O’Sullivan talking about applying behavioural ecology acceleration measures to study osteoarthritis in dogs.
Session 3 – Breakout Groups
The final session for the day offered our delegates choices of the following sessions.
Using principles from behavioural ecology to address applied animal welfare issues – led by Gareth Arnott (QUB), Simon Turner (SRUC) and Edward Codling (University of Essex)
Welfare impact metrics- who needs them and how can the AW research community make them better?: With Siobhan Mullan (UCD)
ECR session – Led by Lucy Asher (Newcastle University)
Although the actual discussions were not recorded, you can see the fantastic summaries given by Jonathan Amory, Jo Hockenhull and Lucy Asher online.
Session 4 – Welcome and New Developments in Animal Welfare Science talks
Everyone was welcomed back to the meeting by Mike Mendl who very smoothly stepped in to cover Gareth Arnott’s presentation on the ‘Future of the AWRN’ as Gareth was experiencing connection issues at the time. This was followed by the elevator pitches where presenters had just 2 minutes each to describe their work. Thanks to Aaron Brown, Dan O’Neill, Farhana Chowdhury, Aline Gasco, Jo Hockenhull, Denise Hebesberger, William Davies and Emmeline Howarth we covered impact of feed rate and temperature on calf welfare, veterinary clinical records as a welfare data resource, improving animal welfare by understanding human behaviour, vocal expression of emotion in coatis, effects of covid on human interactions with animals, the effects of social interactions on heart-rate in horses, use of electrical stunning on prawns and developing and validating attention bias tools for macaques in less than 30 mins including some time for questions! This was followed by three talks on use of technology in measuring animal welfare. The first was Charles Carslake using sensors to study indicators of positive welfare in dairy calves, their accelerometers combined with machine learning algorithms were able to pick up locomotor play. The second was Krista McLennan describing automated detection of facial expression to improve welfare and productivity in sheep. Finally for this session Lynne Sneddon talked about their automated intelligent monitoring of laboratory zebrafish using their fish behaviour index a resource which is freely available, Click here for Fish Behaviour Index.
Session 5 – Welfare and health, immunology and stress
This session started with a plenary from Janicke Nordgreen (NMBU) who gave us a fascinating insight to the effect of immune activation on mood and behaviour and the consequences of this for animal welfare. She describes how the immune system can influence mental health and in general how a pro-inflammatory state is a risk factor for depression and thus how important it is to keep our animals healthy for both their bodies and their minds. This was followed by a plenary from Becky Conway-Campbell (University of Bristol) who summarised the advantages and pitfalls of using corticosterone measurements as a stress indicator in rodents. She covered lots of different techniques and which were suitable for mice and rats and finished with an incredibly useful table summarising the pros and cons of different techniques. Next up was Michael Donnelly describing his work on effects of diet and behavioural temperament on hair cortisol in beef cattle. His study showed that diet impacted on hair cortisol in beef cattle and that it was correlated with temperament tests. Darian Pollock then told us about the effects of rearing environment on the circadian rhythm of cortisol and DHEA in growing swine, and the relationship to hair cortisol and DHEA concentrations as a measure of chronic stress. They found that the provision of straw enrichment influences the circadian rhythms of cortisol and DHEA but that unfortunately this was not detectable in the hair of the pigs. The final talk for the meeting was given by Rachel Malkani who described the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report: 10 years of surveillance on the health and welfare of the UK’s pets. Some of their findings are positive such as a decrease in rabbits living alone and being fed muesli, whilst others are worrying such as an increase in aversive training tools. She also described changes in behaviours of pets over lockdowns. The full report can be found on their website along with a webinar describing the key findings.
Session 6 – Breakout Groups
The final session of the meeting allowed delegates to choose which topic they wishes to discuss in more detail from the following:
Non-invasive measures of welfare: with Janine Brown (Smithsonian National Zoo)
The Animal Sleep Jigsaw: with Linda Greening (Hartpury)
Reliability of Welfare Assessments in the real, scientific and automated World – with Giuliana Miguel Pacheco (University of Saskatchewan)
Again these sessions were not recorded but we have some fabulous introductions from the group organisers and summaries from Guillermina Hernandez-Cruz, Sebastian McBride and Giuliana Miguel Pacheco which will be uploaded alongside the talks.
Overall it was a fantastic two days of talks, discussions and networking amongst over 150 delegates. Huge thanks to all the Chairs (Kristina Kull, Emily Haddy, Sophia Daoudi, Lisa Schanz, Tayla Hammond, Marianne Freeman, Juliette Schillings, Janire Castellano, Phoebe Hartnett, Kate Lewis and Sara Hintze) who are all early career researchers and who did an incredibly professional job of making everyone welcome, keeping the meeting running to time and selecting questions from the audience. We have received so much positive feedback about this initiative and the fabulous job they all did that we intend to continue it for future meetings. Thanks also to Mike Mendl and all the Coordinating Group for their input to the meeting, I appreciate all the time you put into planning breakout groups, finding speakers and reviewing abstracts. Special thanks to Carole Fureix and Giullermina Hernandez-Cruz for all their help organising and hosting the meeting.
I will have the talks uploaded to the website as soon as possible but in the meantime if you have any questions then please do get in touch.