Laboratory soundscapes: optimising acoustic environments for avian welfare

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Psychology

Abstract

Music has profound effects on our mood, increasing happiness and decreasing anxiety. It is commonly believed that music has similar effects in other animals, and music is often played to captive animals to improve their welfare. However, we actually know very little about the long-term effects of music on animals. In fact, music may not be the most appropriate form of acoustic enrichment. The idea that the sounds animals hear when in captivity, in scientific studies or on a farm, can enhance quality of life is an important one. Over four million animals are used in scientific experiments each year in the UK alone, with a further 100 million estimated worldwide. Maximising the welfare of these animals is an important focus of many policy-making bodies, including the UK Government and European Parliament. The central aim of many of these policy makers is to develop best practices based on scientific data to improve the health and wellbeing of animals used in scientific procedures.
One way that we could create better environments for captive animals is to enrich the acoustic surroundings (soundscapes) within their enclosures. However, there are no data on the types of sounds that animals would prefer to hear. This is the obvious first step in informing our idea of what an enriched soundscape sounds like. Listening to preferred soundscapes could reduce stress, limit the impact of anthropogenic noises associated with captivity (e.g. machinery) and reduce anxiety. This could lead to an overall increase in physiological welfare indicators and mean healthier and happier animals.
We intend to test this hypothesis using several innovative experiments. We will do this using the zebra finch, which are arguably the most extensively studied songbirds in the world. They account for the majority of the 300,000 songbirds used annually for studies on social behaviour, cognition, neurobiology, physiology, auditory perception, and welfare in research laboratories worldwide. Yet despite being an important model species, almost nothing is known about how acoustic environments in captivity impact their health and wellbeing.
Firstly we will discover what sounds zebra finches prefer to hear by giving them the choice between a range of man-made, natural and music-like sounds. Once we have this information we will use it to construct two experimental soundscapes that represent enrichment, one based on natural sounds the other on music-like stimuli. We can compare birds living in these environments to those in 'normal' soundscapes and a group that has anthropogenic sounds removed by soundproofing. We will then look at adult bird health, stress levels and behaviour over an eight month period to establish how long-term exposure to enriched sounds impacts on welfare. After this we will determine the effects of our soundscapes on breeding performance and the effects of hearing these sounds during development of the offspring. In all birds we will focus on measuring traits that we know relate to health and wellbeing, including stress levels, anxiety behaviour, immunocompetence, social cohesion and damage to cells by oxidative molecules.
The final part of the study will investigate whether enriched soundscapes can increase the likelihood of birds to participate in behavioural experiments (to learn about a new object or food source). This type of experiment often requires training the birds and in most studies 10-20% of animals do not engage with the task. This may be due to high stress levels during tests, which soundscapes may be able to ameliorate. Overall our work aims to enhance avian welfare in a laboratory setting, and we are confident that it will have repercussions beyond this into other environments, such as farmed birds. In addition we will be able to produce a significant refinement of current welfare protocols. We also suggest that the work will lead to significant reductions in the numbers of animals used in behavioural experiments.

Technical Summary

We will address 3 important questions relevant to animal welfare and behavioural disciplines: 1) how can we create ecologically relevant enriched acoustic environments for captive birds? 2) How does long-term exposure to enriched soundscapes affect welfare indicators: And finally 3) can using these soundscapes refine behavioural testing, resulting in a reduction in animal usage? We will gather longitudinal data on behavioural and physiological responses of zebra finches that experience differential exposure to enriched soundscapes during both adulthood and development. Importantly we will utilise preference tests at the start of the grant to determine which sounds are preferred by zebra finches in order to design appropriate enriched soundscapes. This novel approach will provide us with the ability to create two enriched environments (natural sounds and music-like stimuli).
We will then house birds in these environments, alongside controls (normal soundscapes) and others housed in sound attenuated groups. We will track individuals during adulthood and determine the effects of the soundscapes on breeding performance and offspring quality. In each generation we will quantify the physiological stress response (repeated sampling over 30 minutes of corticosterone release following an acute stressor) using validated radioimmunoassay techniques available in the principal applicant's laboratory. We will further collect data on social behaviour, anxiety and cognitive performance. We will also track changes in physiological welfare indicators, including three validated tests for immune function: haemolysis-haemagglutination; PIT54, an acute phase protein, and lysozyme activity). In addition we intend to use three measures of oxidative stress (8-oxydG; total antioxidant and oxidant capacity). Finally we will use the birds from each generation to determine the effectiveness of our soundscapes on performance in behavioural tasks, probing associative and spatial learning.

Planned Impact

Our research will significantly benefit organisations that are involved in welfare policy making, technician training, and welfare delivery. These include the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), Institute of Animal Technicians (IAT), Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the All Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) and Compassion in World farming. Our proposed work is likely to provide valuable baseline data which can be used to inform improvements in current housing and experimentation protocols for a range of avian taxa, and will therefore be of significant interest to these organisations which regularly house animals and are committed to constantly improving their standards of welfare. This research will also be of great interest to the general public, as animal welfare is a major public concern.

We intend to pursue all opportunities to maximise exposure of this work to a broad community and will communicate with identified stakeholders throughout the duration of the project to allow stakeholders to take full advantage of our work. This involves presentations at several major science festivals and local science events, publications in high impact peer reviewed journals (including welfare-oriented journals), and organising a workshop to present our results in a digestible format to welfare organisations such as those identified earlier. Presentations and exhibitions at widely attended science festivals (e.g. British Festival of Science, Royal Society of London Summer Science Exhibition, Dundee Science Festival) and local activities (e.g. exhibitions the Bell-Pettigrew museum at the University of St Andrews, Dundee Science Centre - Sensation) will take place within the first two years. We also aim to publish at least two articles by this stage, including a review article suitable for a general audience. The workshop is planned for the end of the third year, when we will have collected and analysed data that is likely to have the greatest significance for policy-related decisions and has the most potential for high impact publications. In between the start of the project and the workshop we will maintain contact with relevant stakeholders, updating them on the current results at the end of each year. A 'policy-oriented' report that can be utilised by stakeholders going forward will be published as an outcome of the workshop.

Publications

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Description We have been working on identifying the sounds that birds prefer to listen to in order to try and create soundscapes that could enhance their wellbeing. So far this has proven difficult, as there is a large amount of individual variability in preferences. In itself this is a really interesting finding and no one has really tested this before. This may mean that playing a particular soundscape to a group of birds may actually only benefit some and have negative impacts on others. This has welfare implications. These findings are for when we tested the preferences of birds alone, we have now embarked on a series of experiments looking at who they behave in a social context - we think this may have a big influence and so far (although we are still analysing the data) it seems that music such as Bach facilitates resting, whilst playing other birds sounds or anthropogenic noises causes birds to be more agitated. So the devil is in the detail here - our work could not only help us design calming spaces for birds, but cloud also give insights into how we all need to think about how we test preferences for different stimuli.
Exploitation Route Redesign of preference testing
Use of music in social contexts as a positive welfare enhancer.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description Development of PE pages in group website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have developed a new website showcasing our research and alongside this we have created PE activity pages, with a dedicated form for PE involvement by several sectors, including schools. We have not assessed hot rates yet and whilst the pages were developed in 2018, the site was only launched in Feb 2019. WE will endeavour to monitor the impacts via correspondence we receive to engage with schools etc. Already 5 schools have contacted us about our Schools roadshow.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.moblabgroup.com/public-engagement-outreach
 
Description Interaction with industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited participation to act on an advisory team consisting of representatives at Stonegate Ltd, Clarence Court Eggs Ltd, Crediton Milling (feed supplier), Premier Nutrition and a range of small scale egg producers who work with the company. My work with this group has already resulted in changes to housing conditions and we are now undertaking joint research projects in order to maximise welfare and egg production in socially housed birds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Schools roadshow - developmental biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools roadshow including members of research team, 65 pupils were involved. School reported great enthusiasm for subject after visit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Schools roadshow - developmental biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools roadshow developed to increase understanding of general developmental biology principles. Interactive sessions (3-4 per class over 4 weeks) at Primary and Pre-school institutions all over Fife and Angus, including special needs units in Dundee. In total 17 institutions were visited reaching multiple classes within these schools. Our work engaged 854 pupils, with 50% of these at pre-school levels. In each of these nurseries we reached the entire cohort. Primary school sessions ranged from P1-6. We have had requests for a more widespread program this year (2019), however funding will be required. In 2019 we have scaled this to 6 institutions due to funding issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.moblabgroup.com/public-engagement-outreach