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Research Training Scholarships

Naomi Latham

“Refining the role of stereotypic behaviour in the assessment of welfare: stress, general motor persistence and early environment in the development of abnormal behaviours”

In 2000, Naomi Latham, under the supervision of Dr Georgia Mason, at Oxford University was awarded a PhD scholarship to investigate the role of stereotypic behaviour in the assessment of welfare. Stereotypies — repetitive, unvarying and apparently functionless patterns of behaviour — are commonly regarded as one sign of poor welfare. Their relationship with other welfare measures, such as raised levels of urinary corticosterone, is, however, far from clear-cut. Naomi sought to determine whether the complexity of this relationship may arise, in part, from differences in the underlying causes of stereotypy development and performance. For example, some stereotypies may stem from frustrated attempts to perform motivated behaviours (and may, therefore, track other welfare measures reliably); others may substitute for motivated behaviours or be rewarding through their repetition (and may, therefore, appear beneficial for welfare); while others may stem from habit-formation processes or central nervous system changes that result in behavioural persistence (and may, therefore, appear neutral to welfare). In order to manipulate the expression of stereotypy, Naomi reared laboratory mice in different conditions (eg standard laboratory conditions; delayed, naturalistic weaning; and enriched cages) and assessed physiological and behavioural signs of stress and frustration in these animals, and their general behavioural persistence. She found that mice did indeed show signs of behavioural persistence and frustration, and the mice that exhibited the highest stress responses to environmental disturbance and/or change were most likely to display the highest level of stereotypy later in life. These were also the mice that were the least likely to reduce their stereotypy following enrichment. Naomi also found that enrichment had an important role to play in improving mouse welfare. Mice housed in an enriched environment as young animals developed less stereotypic behaviour than those housed in standard cages, and the provision of enrichments to adult standard-housed mice also seemed to reduce stereotypy. To gain access to an enriched cage, some mice were willing to push open a door weighing over 3½ times their own body weight, and they would push a total weight equivalent to almost 30 times their body weight over the course of a day. Naomi’s findings are an important contribution to our understanding of improved conditions for laboratory mice.

Published papers arising from Naomi’s project supported by UFAW:

Latham, N.R. and Mason G.J. 2010. Frustration and perseveration in stereotypic captive animals: Is a taste of enrichment worse than none at all? Behavioural Brain Research. 211: 96-104. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2010.03.018

Mason, G., Clubb, R., Latham N. & Vickery S. 2007. Why and how should we use enrichments to tackle stereotypic behaviour? Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 102: 163 – 188. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2006.05.041

Latham, N.R. and Mason G.J. 2004. From house mouse to mouse house: the behavioural biology of free-living Mus musculus and its implications in the laboratory. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 86: 261-289. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2004.02.006 

Mason G.J. and Latham, N.R. 2004. Can’t stop, won’t stop: is stereotypy a reliable animal welfare indicator? Animal Welfare. 13: S57-69.