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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Importance of Behavioral Research in Zoological Institutions: An Introduction to the Special Issue


Behavioral research within zoological institutions (zoos and aquariums) has a long history that has helped to increase basic scientific knowledge and to facilitate the ability of institutions to make informed animal management decisions. Kleiman (1992) stated that "behavior research in zoos has enormous potential to contribute positively to the science of animal management, long-term breeding programs, conservation biology, and the advancement of scientific theory" (p. 309). As evidenced by the papers in this issue, behavioral research in zoos continues to be important. The purpose of this special issue is to highlight some of the behavioral research being conducted within zoos and aquariums and to demonstrate the importance of such work to zoological institutions and the greater scientific community. With a better understanding of the importance of behavioral research, we hope to inspire more zoological facilities to become involved either through funding/conducting research or by actively promoting the use of their animal collections for behavioral research to both the zoological and academic communities.  Historically, most of the behavioral research in zoos and aquariums was intended to increase basic scientific knowledge. More recently, there has been a shift in focus to applied topics in order to help solve animal management issues (Hutchins & Thompson, 2008; Kleiman, 1992; Stoinski, Lukas, & Maple, 1998). Such issues range from reproduction and behavioral development of species that are difficult to breed to determining the effects of environmental or management factors on the welfare of individual or groups of animals. The abstracts submitted for consideration for this special issue reflect this trend towards applied research in zoos and aquariums. Applied research represented approximately 76% (n = 50) of the abstracts that were submitted for the special issue. While not necessarily representative of behavioral research as a whole throughout zoological institutions around the world, the numbers nonetheless suggest that applied research comprises the majority of the behavioral research focus within zoos and aquariums.

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