Improving the measurement of animal welfare
Developing aging biomarkers as a measure of animal welfare

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This profile is tailored towards students studying biological sciences, however we expect there to be valuable open research questions that could be pursued by students in other disciplines.

Why is this a pressing problem?

Improving wild animal welfare could be a particularly effective way to improve the world. Although there is a lot of uncertainty about the number of wild animals in existence, estimates suggest this number is many orders of magnitude greater than the number of humans.

Wild animals seem to experience many severe hardships in nature – such as disease, starvation, predation and parasitism – but research into the welfare of wild animals is highly neglected. Although there are ways of improving wild animal welfare that seem promising, work in this area is impeded by the difficulty of actually measuring and comparing the quality of animals’ lives.

One particularly promising new approach to measuring animal wellbeing is to compare the rate of biological ageing in different populations, with faster-ageing animals taken to be experiencing worse welfare. If developed properly, ageing-based methods could improve researchers’ ability to evaluate and compare the quality of life of different animal groups, allowing resources intended to improve animal welfare to be used much more effectively.

In this video, Will Bradshaw, a research fellow at Wild Animal Initiative, outlines the potential of biological ageing as a measure of animal welfare, as well as some of its possible limitations.


Explore existing research

Melissa Bateson and Colline Poirier are two of the academics who have done work specifically on ageing biomarkers as a way of measuring animal welfare. For a longer list of academics who have done research on wild animal welfare in general, see this list.

The Wild Animal Initiative supports researchers studying many aspects of wild animal welfare.

Find a thesis topic

If you’re interested in working on this research direction, below are some ideas on what would be valuable to explore further. If you want help refining your research ideas, apply for our coaching!

For ageing-based methods of measuring welfare, there are currently several promising avenues that an interested student could pursue, including experimental laboratory work evaluating different ageing measures as potential welfare metrics, theoretical work exploring the evolutionary relationship between ageing and welfare (for example, the theoretical validity of ageing-based welfare measures in juvenile animals versus adults), and using existing ageing-based measures to investigate outstanding questions in animal welfare science. The range of potential approaches here mean there is space for students from many different branches of the life sciences to make valuable contributions. There is also a lot of potential value in spreading knowledge and application of ageing-based welfare methods in academia. See here for a thorough discussion of potential routes forward.

Further resources

See this list of research priorities from the Wild Animal Initiative for further research ideas.

If you’re interested in working on this research direction, apply for our coaching and we can connect you with researchers already working in this space, who can help you refine your research ideas.

If you want to do research on this direction or other aspects of wild animal welfare, we also recommend applying to join the Wild Animal Initiative’s online research community. You can also apply to join our community if you’re interested in peer connections with others working in this area.

Apply for our database of potential supervisors if you’re looking for formal supervision and take a look at our advice on finding a great supervisor for further ideas.

Our funding database can help you find potential sources of funding if you’re a PhD student interested in this research direction.

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This profile was last updated 22/05/22. Thanks to William Bradshaw for originally creating this profile.

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