I have a background in applied animal management and have worked extensively with zoos and animal collections. As an industry, we recognise that to further improve our animal management techniques, we need to be increasingly aware of subtle morphological and physiological differences between closely related species.
The overall goal of my research is to investigate our ability to perceive the motion of both domestic and wild canids (such as domestic dogs, foxes and wolves) during walking (or their gait).
How canids have shaped human evolution
Archaeological remains offer evidence of humans providing veterinary care for their companion animals for over 14,000 years. This implies that our ability to detect and treat pain in domesticated species may be an innate evolutionary adaptation, and that it is likely that the animal domestication process has selected towards forms of pain signalling that is easier for us to recognise.
As part of my research, I will validate a novel, non-invasive motion tracking method to measure canid movement in both lab and zoo settings. Then I will explore people’s abilities to detect features of canid walking, especially in light of our long evolutionary history of living and working with dogs.
I aim to answer two questions: are humans more sensitive to the motion of domestic dogs or wild canid species? And are pet-owners, vets and zookeepers more attuned to dog motion than those with less experience around dogs?
Evolutionary science for applied animal welfare
Understanding the evolutionary relationships between species is essential for promoting and maintaining animal welfare. For example, the discovery of slight anatomical differences in the lips of black and white rhinoceros has uncovered vastly different feeding patterns between the two species, highlighting a previously unknown issue with their captive diet.
I hope to contribute similar discoveries regarding the anatomical components of canid gait. In addition, by deploying the latest advancements of artificial intelligence and animal tracking, I hope to improve our assessments of captive animal welfare and make recommendations to help humans identify canid gait abnormalities.
From science to actionable solutions
I have worked in public facing roles throughout my time in zoos, and I am excited to educate the public on the evolutionary history of animals. In particular, I am keen to convey how ‘blue-sky’ evolutionary biology can translate into practical, actionable welfare solutions for captive animals.
I also hope to increase the public’s trust in evolutionary science by promoting transparency and ‘lifting the curtain’ on research data collection. I plan to achieve this through face-to-face public engagement whilst collecting data in zoos, alongside organised outreach talks with partner organisations. Finally, I hope to contribute to the wider message surrounding the importance of zoos within both scientific research, and more broadly, societal wellbeing.
After my PhD, I would like to apply for a research fellowship to continue my interdisciplinary work on the perception of animal locomotion.
My EET scholarship provides me with the opportunities and tools I need to develop into a champion of multidisciplinary research. Very few funders support such dynamic research spanning multiple fields of study, so the support from EET is key, both to the development of this emerging field of study, but also for my own career plans.
Understanding the evolutionary relationships between species is essential for promoting and maintaining animal welfare.