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Article

Gaps in Live Inter-Observer Reliability Testing of Animal Behavior: A Retrospective Analysis and Path Forward

Animal Welfare Science Program, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL 60614, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Almo Farina
J. Zool. Bot. Gard. 2021, 2(2), 207-221; https://doi.org/10.3390/jzbg2020014
Received: 24 February 2021 / Accepted: 7 April 2021 / Published: 15 April 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Recent Advances in the Science of Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare)
Observational behavior research is an important activity for zoos and aquariums, often being conducted to provide insights into welfare and guide management decisions. This research relies on standardized protocols to ensure consistent data collection. Inter-observer reliability, where untrained observers are tested against the behavior identifications of an expert observer, represent a critical internal validation process. Recent software advances have made reliability testing easier and more accessible, but there is limited guidance on what constitutes a strong reliability test. In this study, we reviewed historic reliability test data from Lincoln Park Zoo’s on-going behavior monitoring program. Six representative species were chosen that included 645 live pairwise reliability tests conducted across 163 total project observers. We identified that observers were being tested on only approximately 25% of the behaviors listed and defined in the species ethograms. Observers did encounter a greater percent of the ethogram with successive reliability tests, but this gap remained large. While inactive behaviors were well-represented during reliability tests, social and other non-maintenance solitary behaviors (e.g., exploratory, scent marking, play, etc.) did not frequently occur during tests. While the ultimate implications of these gaps in testing are unclear, these results highlight the risks of live reliability testing as an inherently non-standardized process. We suggest several approaches to help address these limitations, including refining ethograms, reconsidering criteria, and supplementing live training with video. We hope this self-critique encourages others to critically examine their methods, enhance the quality of their behavioral data, and ultimately, strengthen conclusions drawn about animal behavior and welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: inter-observer reliability; animal behavior; welfare; zoo inter-observer reliability; animal behavior; welfare; zoo
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MDPI and ACS Style

Wark, J.D.; Wierzal, N.K.; Cronin, K.A. Gaps in Live Inter-Observer Reliability Testing of Animal Behavior: A Retrospective Analysis and Path Forward. J. Zool. Bot. Gard. 2021, 2, 207-221. https://doi.org/10.3390/jzbg2020014

AMA Style

Wark JD, Wierzal NK, Cronin KA. Gaps in Live Inter-Observer Reliability Testing of Animal Behavior: A Retrospective Analysis and Path Forward. Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens. 2021; 2(2):207-221. https://doi.org/10.3390/jzbg2020014

Chicago/Turabian Style

Wark, Jason D., Natasha K. Wierzal, and Katherine A. Cronin 2021. "Gaps in Live Inter-Observer Reliability Testing of Animal Behavior: A Retrospective Analysis and Path Forward" Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens 2, no. 2: 207-221. https://doi.org/10.3390/jzbg2020014

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