Research: Publication reform to safeguard wildlife from researcher harm

Led by Kate Field, new research describes an ethical blindspot in wild animal research, and describes how journals could be key for safeguarding wild animals moving forward.

A wolf rests on the beach in the Great Bear Rainforest, with a chart from Figure 1 overlaid.

Photo by Tim Irvin.

Scientists from Raincoast Conservation Foundation, University of Victoria, Alpha Wildlife Research & Management, and University of Saskatchewan reviewed more than 200 peer-reviewed academic journals that commonly publish wildlife research, evaluating the presence and comprehensiveness of ‘Animal Care’ requirements of authors.

The study, “Publication reform to safeguard wildlife from researcher harm,” published as an open access article in PLoS Biology, found troubling patterns but also identified clear opportunities for change.

Lead author Kate Field, of the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab, and her colleagues found journal policies on animal care were either absent or weak.

A central paradigm in the treatment of study animals, for example, is the 3Rs: replacement, reduction, and refinement. The tenet of replacement is avoiding, or replacing, the use of animals. Reduction refers to the number of animals used per study. And the tenet of refinement refers to methods to reduce the suffering. However, only 6% of journals with animal care policies “required that authors ‘must’ adopt” these tenets. Moreover, one third of journals had no animal care policy whatsoever.

“Journals varied considerably in their inclusion of criteria but collectively lacked fundamental safeguards against the mistreatment of wildlife.”

Field et al. respond to this opportunity by providing a practical resource, the ARROW Guidelines (Animals in Research: Reporting on Wildlife; Box 1), as a coherent baseline for journals currently lacking animal care policies (34% of journals examined) upon which to build.

Read the open access article

Abstract

Despite abundant focus on responsible care of laboratory animals, we argue that inattention to the maltreatment of wildlife constitutes an ethical blind spot in contemporary animal research. We begin by reviewing significant shortcomings in legal and institutional oversight, arguing for the relatively rapid and transformational potential of editorial oversight at journals in preventing harm to vertebrates studied in the field and outside the direct supervision of institutions. Straightforward changes to animal care policies in journals, which our analysis of 206 journals suggests are either absent (34%), weak, incoherent, or neglected by researchers, could provide a practical, effective, and rapidly imposed safeguard against unnecessary suffering. The Animals in Research: Reporting On Wildlife (ARROW) guidelines we propose here, coupled with strong enforcement, could result in significant changes to how animals involved in wildlife research are treated. The research process would also benefit. Sound science requires animal subjects to be physically, physiologically, and behaviorally unharmed. Accordingly, publication of methods that contravenes animal welfare principles risks perpetuating inhumane approaches and bad science.

Citation

Field KA, Paquet PC, Artelle K, Proulx G, Brook RK, Darimont CT (2019) Publication reform to safeguard wildlife from researcher harm. PLoS Biol 17(4): e3000193. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000193

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000193

Recommend minimum requirements for animal care policies

Box 1. Recommended minimum requirements for animal care policies in journals that publish research on wildlife (“ARROW guidelines”)

In the text of the manuscript, supplementary information, and/or cover letter, authors must

  • state that they have obtained an institutional animal care approval and cite documentation of such an approval (including relevant application number to support tracking)
  • state that they have complied with the relevant national, international, and institutional guidelines regarding animal care, naming them
  • state that they have complied with, and cite, animal care legislation in the country(ies) where their research was conducted
  • state that they took all measures possible to follow the 3R tenets and describe such measures
  • for research involving wildlife (captive or in natural settings), state that they have followed taxon-specific guidelines for the ethical treatment of the taxa of study and cite such guidelines

Failure to comply with journal policies on the care and use of animals will result in manuscript rejection. Editors maintain the discretion to reject work that imposes harm to research animals.

Figure 1

Fig 1. Presence and strength of compliance language in animal care policies across 206 journals that commonly publish wildlife research. 3R, replacement, reduction, refinement.

Fig 1. Presence and strength of compliance language in animal care policies across 206 journals that commonly publish wildlife research. 3R, replacement, reduction, refinement.

Figure 2

Association between journal characteristics and presence of animal care policies across 206 journals that commonly publish wildlife research.

Fig 2. Association between journal characteristics and presence of animal care policies across 206 journals that commonly publish wildlife research. Coefficients shown are odds ratios from a logistic model, with thick and thin bars representing 50 and 95% confidence intervals, respectively. X scale unit is per 2 SDs of predictor.

Affiliations

Alpha Wildlife Research and Management, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

Department of Animal and Poultry Science and the Indigenous Land Management Institute, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

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