Animal welfare science: recent publication trends and future research priorities

Walker, M and Diez-Leon, M and Mason, G (2014) Animal welfare science: recent publication trends and future research priorities. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 27 (1). pp. 80-100.

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Abstract

Animal welfare science is a young and thriving field. Over the last two decades, the output of scientific publications on welfare has increased by c. 10-15% annually (tripling as a proportion of all science papers logged by ISI’s Web of Science), with just under half the c. 8500 total being published in the last 4 years. These papers span an incredible 500+ journals, but around three quarters have been in 80 animal science, veterinary, ethology, conservation and specialized welfare publications, and nearly 25% are published in just two: Animal Welfare and Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Farmed animals – especially mammals – have attracted by far the most research. This broadly reflects the vastness of their populations and the degree of public concern they elicit; poultry, however, are under-studied, and farmed fish ever more so: fish have only recently attracted welfare research, and are by far the least studied of all agricultural species, perhaps because of ongoing doubts about their sentience. We predict this farm animal focus will continue in the future, but embracing more farmed fish, reptiles and invertebrates, and placing its findings within broader international contexts such as environmental and food security concerns. Laboratory animals have been consistently well studied, with a shift in recent years away from primates and towards rodents. Pets, the second largest animal sector after farmed animals, have in contrast been little studied considering their huge populations (cats being especially overlooked): we anticipate research on them increasing in the future. Captive wild animals, especially mammals, have attracted a consistent level of welfare research over the last two decades. Given the many thousands of diverse species kept by zoos, this must, and we predict will, increase. Future challenges and opportunities including refining the use of preference tests, stereotypic behaviour, corticosteroid outputs and putative indicators of positive affect, to enable more valid conclusions about welfare; investigating the evolution and functions of affective states; and last but not least, identifying which taxonomic groups and stages of development are actually sentient and so worthy of welfare concern.

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