Applying behavior-analytic methodology to the science and practice of environmental enrichment in zoos and aquariums

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Christina A. Alligood, Nicole R. Dorey, Lindsay R. Mehrkam, Katherine A. Leighty
Zoo Biology
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Environmental enrichment in zoos and aquariums is often evaluated at two overlapping levels: published research and day-to-day institutional record keeping. Several authors have discussed ongoing challenges with small sample sizes in between-groups zoological research and have cautioned against the inappropriate use of inferential statistics (Shepherdson, , International Zoo Yearbook, 38, 118–124; Shepherdson, Lewis, Carlstead, Bauman, & Perrin, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 147, 298–277; Swaisgood, , Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 102, 139–162; Swaisgood & Shepherdson, , Zoo Biology, 24, 499–518). Multi-institutional studies are the typically-prescribed solution, but these are expensive and difficult to carry out. Kuhar ( Zoo Biology, 25, 339–352) provided a reminder that inferential statistics are only necessary when one wishes to draw general conclusions at the population level. Because welfare is assessed at the level of the individual animal, we argue that evaluations of enrichment efficacy are often instances in which inferential statistics may be neither necessary nor appropriate. In recent years, there have been calls for the application of behavior-analytic techniques to zoo animal behavior management, including environmental enrichment (e.g., Bloomsmith, Marr, & Maple, , Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 102, 205–222; Tarou & Bashaw, , Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 102, 189–204). Single-subject (also called single-case, or small-n) designs provide a means of designing evaluations of enrichment efficacy based on an individual’s behavior. We discuss how these designs might apply to research and practice goals at zoos and aquariums, contrast them with standard practices in the field, and give examples of how each could be successfully applied in a zoo or aquarium setting.


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