Day One Synthesis Session
Moderator: William W. Bowerman IV, University of Maryland
William W. Bowerman IV, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, served as moderator of the first workshop Synthesis Session. During the discussion, session chairs provided a brief overview of their session and addressed a subset of cross-cutting questions asked by the workshop attendees.
SESSION ONE SYNTHESIS: PERSPECTIVES ON ANIMAL WELFARE CONSIDERATIONS BETWEEN LABORATORY ANIMAL AND FREE-RANGING FISH AND WILDLIFE FIELD RESEARCH
Session Chair: Anne Maglia, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Maglia provided a recap of the session agenda and noted that Session One began with a brief history of wildlife research-related regulations by Sikes, who identified a number of high-level challenges that were referenced throughout the first day of the workshop. Maglia was the next speaker in the session and provided an overview of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded wildlife research portfolio to highlight diversity in wildlife research; she discussed diversity not only in the context of the types of animals but also the types of procedures and settings. She identified some challenges that NSF-funded principal investigators (PIs) have encountered. Maglia said, Clarke discussed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and considerations related to wildlife field activities; and Petervary shared information about the National Institutes of Health (NIH) perspectives regarding policies and regulatory challenges in conducting wildlife work as it relates to the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare’s (OLAW’s) regulations. Finally, Wyatt closed the session by discussing AAALAC and wildlife animal welfare challenges from the AAALAC perspective, Maglia said.
Maglia highlighted participant questions during the session, such as the use of remote data collection and whether Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) review is needed if using a helicopter. Maglia also raised a question focused on animal handling and noted that efforts should be taken to minimize the impact of handling on the animal.
A discussion regarding the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in fieldwork, and Sikes added that PPE is an important consideration for investigators and the IACUC, both for the protection of the personnel and also for the protection of the animals. He also said that the types of PPE used depends on the specific context and risks inherent with the research activity in question. Sikes stressed that it would be beneficial for researchers to be cognizant of those risks and to match their practices with the intended use of those animals. For example, Sikes explained that in cases of lethal capture where animals are captured by hand, in which the animals are not released, the use of gloves is not a significant concern. However, in certain environments, contaminants on boots or clothing can become an issue, Sikes said, and in particular, when working with herptiles, decontamination procedures are critical when moving between sites. Sikes reemphasized that PPE should be suited for the risks associated with the type of research being conducted. For example, he said, hantavirus may not be a concern while working with rodents in Arkansas because it is not a reported risk in the state. However, it might be a concern for researchers working in a different part of the United States. Bateman added that the importance of educating students, who may not have a great deal of field experience. For example, Bateman conducts discussions on basic PPE such as the use of heavy boots, protecting themselves from the desert sun and cactus spines, and the risks associated with venomous animals with a goal to keep her students safe.
Another question that arose during the session was centered on how an IACUC can best meet semi-annual facility inspection oversight requirements, especially in remote sites or in field settings. Wyatt noted that he has observed that IACUCs around the world accomplish this task in many ways and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. He continued that overall IACUCs are concerned with animal welfare, animal well-being, and personnel safety and seek to validate that the program activities that are being achieved as described in the protocol. Wyatt stressed that each IACUC should consider what is feasible to achieve its goals (e.g., use of videos, cameras, and photographs while the program is active onsite). While IACUCs appreciate updates, progress reports, and in-person visits from researchers, in-person visits provide an opportunity for IACUC members to ask questions, Wyatt said.
Another question was raised regarding IACUCs and whether protocols should be required for wildlife activities, especially when IACUCs may not have wildlife expertise. Maglia asked about the types of information that may help IACUCs make that determination. Petervary referred to NIH OLAW’s Frequently Asked Questions A.61 and noted that IACUCs could establish protocols using NIH OLAW guidelines concerning location, procedures, and study animals’ biology and ecology and include assurance that permitting and occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements are met. She noted that a written record of IACUC evaluations can be critical for publication because many journals now require some form of IACUC documentation or some form of review. Sikes added that protocol forms could ask relevant questions for the oversight body to review these activities. He noted that most institutions can tailor forms to their needs. For example, The Ornithological Council and the American Society of Mammalogists have wildlife-specific templates on their websites. Sikes said the documents were developed together, but then split apart to accommodate each society. The templates are in Microsoft Word format, so anyone can download and modify them to suit their institution.
SESSION TWO SYNTHESIS: REVIEW OF THE LAWS, REGULATIONS, AND PERMITS ASSOCIATED WITH FISH AND WILDLIFE AND CASE STUDIES AND EXAMPLES
Session Chair: Sharon Shriver, Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research
Shriver summarized the three presentations included in the first part of Session Two. The first speaker, Ferguson, discussed animal welfare challenges from a Natural History Museum perspective. Among his key points, he noted that the regulations are complex and that they can tend to drive research agendas, especially in relation to collections for museums. Ferguson talked about how museums represent a unique situation where lethal sampling is common and specimens are meant to be used and shared. Keeping the regulations grounded in biology, with a consistent dialogue between regulators and scientists, can help to encourage ethically sound research and scientific advancement to move forward.
Baeten talked about the challenges for wildlife reviews within the National Park Service, including how to determine whether a particular activity requires IACUC review. The challenges can be logistical, political, or due to a lack of defined oversight, Shriver said. She described the development of a decision-making model to help define research versus management. The model provides clear definitions and identifies decision points to provide direction for IACUC review and oversight for animal use projects. Shriver further explained Baeten’s decision-making model about the release and re-introduction of animals from captivity into the wild.
Shriver summarized Hickman’s talk about research on tribal lands, where he discussed how visiting researchers can more fully understand the legal and ethical sovereignty rights of tribes. Shriver reminded participants that concepts of natural resource management and land ownership can be different for tribes and emphasized Hickman’s point on the importance of including tribal perspectives. While tribal lands often contain highly biodiverse environments, tribes may be disproportionately overburdened
1 NIH OLAW Frequently Asked Questions are available at https://olaw.nih.gov/faqs/#/guidance/faqs?anchor=question50290.
and underfunded such that animal care and use processes are often difficult, leading to reliance on partners and ultimately, perhaps leading to decreased sovereignty as well, Shriver noted.
In the second part of Session Two, Shriver said that the three speakers presented case studies and examples illustrating connections to the laws, regulations, and permits discussed in Session One. Tell talked about the unique challenges in working with free-ranging hummingbirds, and how it is the researchers’ responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of the animals, the research team, the students, and the public. Tell pointed out the time commitment for administrative tasks and pre-planning is inherent to performing research that involves free-ranging wildlife. For example, a single project may require a diverse collection of overlapping and non-overlapping permits. Another challenge that can arise from conflicting requirements includes a situation where, for example, the IACUC requests a permit before providing approval but the permitting agency requests IACUC approval before granting the permit, Shriver said.
Heaney talked about the discovery of new species. By definition, the research efforts to find and document such species require permits and flexible IACUC approval. Heaney showed how data produced by these studies regarding the existence, distribution, and habitat of species are important for conservation assessment and planning, especially in an era of habitat loss and climate change. These data are currently lacking from tropical mammals and other vertebrates, Shriver noted. He reiterated that fieldwork produces these types of data in remote areas where conditions are difficult, including places that are the homelands of Indigenous peoples whose cultures need to be respected.
The final speaker of the session, Bateman, discussed field research involving reptiles and amphibians in remote study sites and with the help of undergraduate students. Shriver reviewed how communication with the IACUC can be helpful when the unexpected happens; for example, necessary changes that needed to be made due to unexpected predation or to wildfire at a study site. She said Bateman included undergraduate students in research and discussed how this can benefit students by encouraging critical thinking and exploration. She talked about engaging with students, being sensitive to their backgrounds and experience, and ensuring training for their safety in the field. Ultimately, this can be important for the future of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce, Shriver said.
At the end of the session, Heaney emphasized the importance of collaboration, flexibility, and respect for the different cultures, priorities, regulations, and traditions in the areas where scientific work is conducted. The notion of “helicopter research,” where researchers “drop in” to conduct their research and leave, can prevent long-term benefits such as relationship building, partnerships, and the sharing of research findings. Heaney noted the benefits of collaboration and flexibility when grappling with constraints in animal work and research programs.
SESSION THREE SYNTHESIS: WILD ANIMAL POPULATION CONCERNS
Session Chair: Patrice N. Klein, U.S. Forest Service
Klein moderated Session Three, which focused on biosafety, field safety, and biosecurity, and highlighted the dynamic and complex risks in conducting wildlife research activities, both in the field and in the laboratory. Speakers discussed the risk of introduction and spread of wildlife diseases inadvertently, as well as the impacts on biodiversity and species conservation. The importance of dialogue and partnership among the PI, the IACUC members, and environmental health and safety or OSH committees when generating the appropriate biosafety protocols for wildlife research activities was emphasized.
Klein referenced Reichard’s idea of developing standards of practice around biosecurity, biosafety, and animal welfare. Klein added that these are related to One Health principles in which all life (human, animal, and environmental health) is interconnected. Klein also highlighted Reichard’s risk assessment tools, particularly for emerging infectious disease. Klein referenced white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats as an example. Similar situations occurred with Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and coronavirus. She stressed that emerging infectious
diseases highlight the importance of science in management and disease control decisions. Other key points addressed in the session were related to building a culture of diversity and inclusion, conducting safe wildlife field activities, and preventing the occurrence of sexual harassment.
Klein highlighted Bryan’s discussion on biosafety challenges inherent in wildlife fieldwork at the macro and micro levels. Challenges at the macro level include climate, seasonality, target species, non-target species, and equipment. Challenges at the micro level include animal diseases or zoonotic diseases; trauma; euthanasia and carcass disposition; exposures to chemicals, allergens, and toxins; and poisonous or venomous species both in the laboratory and in natural settings. In response to urgent conservation threats, for example, with Bsal, Bd, and WNS, coordinated disease research and management activities entail biosafety protocols to help guide the work and to prevent further pathogen spread. Klein highlighted the standards of practice used by the WNS National Response community that worked in partnership with the federal and state permitting agencies as a good example of collaboration to manage inherent risks in studying emerging wildlife diseases.
Bryan also pointed out that expertise for IACUCs can be obtained from multiple resources. Depending on where they are located, for example, state wildlife agencies could have an IACUC that may provide a wealth of knowledge and experience to help a committee that does not usually handle free-ranging species activities.
Parkinson further elaborated on conducting research safely, specifically citing concerns regarding sexual harassment prevention and increasing diversity and inclusion. Parkinson noted that field safety includes both physical and mental safety. PIs should be aware of these concerns and ensure that students understand that there are resources available to them, said Parkinson.
Lips addressed comments regarding the novel introduction of emerging infectious diseases. She explained that communication, coordination, and cooperation are critical to addressing infectious diseases. Lips said, whenever an emerging infectious disease is identified, it is important to share that information widely and quickly with the appropriate groups to mobilize a response. She explained that there are existing groups who are conducting research as well as governmental and non-governmental groups of researchers and scientific societies.
Vredenburg discussed the biodiversity crisis and the research that aims to address issues where species are being threatened, sometimes due to human activities. He said that stabilizing populations can involve intervention through the IACUC framework. Vredenburg said that collaboration and effective communication among the IACUC at his institution and those of local zoos allowed them to move forward on a project where animals were re-introduced into the wild.
Bryan discussed the dynamic between a PI working with IACUC members and OSH. Bryan commented that with an NIH OLAW–registered IACUC using the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, there is a direct relationship between the oversight body and OSH. If an institution has a different arrangement, conversation, and collaboration between OSH and IACUC review will be managed differently. Petervary added that NIH OLAW views the OSH program as an institutional responsibility; however, IACUCs are responsible for all animal care and use within their institutions. She reiterated that IACUCs could be active participants in evaluating protocols and to consult with OHS experts to help evaluate protocols.
An IACUC that is not registered with NIH OLAW does not have the mandate to oversee occupational health, Bryan noted, but it may ask questions and interview the PI and the team to ensure that proper precautions are being taken and that safety protocols are being followed in the field. The AWA does not give IACUCs the mandate to organize or manage occupational health for the institutions they serve; however, there is overlap in the review of animal use protocols (AUPs) that has to do with the safety, biosecurity, and biosafety of the animals under study. This is important for disease transmission, for instance, an IACUC mitigation strategy for an AUP that diminishes the risk of disease transmission between animals and the handler. Ultimately, he said, what is safest for the animals and the environment is usually also safest for humans.
Klein added that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how it is important to protect humans, domesticated animals, and free-ranging wild animals from diseases that may be transmitted from humans
to animals and back again. Pointing to the quick adoption of high-precaution protocols in response to the emergence of COVID-19, Reichard noted that public communication is also important to help people understand why precautions are necessary—in this case, it was to protect wild bats from being infected with COVID-19 by humans rather than the other way around—as well as to combat misinformation regarding disease transmission between humans and animals.
Klein closed the session with a discussion of other topics, including the value of creating a standardized IACUC protocol form to aid wildlife researchers. Shriver said that while there is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution, researchers and IACUCs could benefit from some level of standardization. However, Shriver and Maglia stressed that it is also important to retain flexibility. Parkinson and Bowerman noted that in situations where the IACUC permits and approval from government agencies may be dependent on each other, researchers or their institutions could sign documentation indicating that they are responsible for obtaining all necessary approvals and permits. Senior IACUC coordinator at Colorado State University, Elaine K. Kim, spoke about the precedent set by institutional policy and procedure to facilitate researcher safety. She suggested that IACUCs use semi-annual reviews to analyze protocols and pose questions to researchers as an opportunity to show a good faith effort to collaborate and communicate with stakeholders.