Last updated: 3 August 2018

We prioritize research questions based on how well they allow us to make progress against the following two goals:

  1. Better understand wild-animal suffering;
  2. Identify viable policies to reduce this suffering.

This is an ambitious research agenda. Our team currently doesn’t have the resources to work on all of these questions. Therefore, each researcher has identified a promising subfield to explore over the next 12 – 24 months. Learn more about our individual research plans:

If you’d like to support our project by doing research, reach out to us: info@was-research.org

Note: This agenda is not an exhaustive list of all relevant wild-animal suffering research questions. It is a reflection of our current focus. The agenda will be updated regularly to reflect our progress and thinking on the most promising topics of exploration.  

Basic Research

Welfare Metrics

  • What are effective metrics to use to quantify animal experiences e.g., cortisol levels, dopamine levels, mortality rate, behaviour?
  • Which potential indicators of welfare and suffering in wild animals are the most reliable and cost-effective?

Physical Welfare

  • Which types of animals have the most numerous negative experiences or the most severe negative experiences?
  • How do we compare the numerosity and intensity of negative experiences with positive experiences?
  • Can we decouple some negative experiences from associated positive ones?
  • What are the most common causes of suffering and how painful are they e.g., starvation, dehydration, parasitism, disease?
  • To what extent does chronic pain affect wild animal well-being?
  • How much moral consideration should we give to larval or juvenile animals, and how should we consider their experiences in relation to adults?
  • Which stimuli are painful for invertebrates?
  • What are the instrumental purposes of negative stimuli in the wild?
  • How does an animal’s ecological niche affect its experience of negative stimuli?
  • See Georgia Ray’s individual research plan

Psychological Welfare

  • How often do wild animals experience chronic stress?
  • How much does psychological distress i.e., fear, stress, loss, contribute to the suffering of wild animals?
  • Which species experience mental illness? What are the rates?

Neurobiology

  • A review of considerations of sentience in invertebrates.
  • Which experimentally verifiable metrics seem to correspond to an ability to experience pleasure and pain?
  • Are there any especially good metrics to use as rules of thumb for the above, e.g., neuron count, ability to learn from novel stimuli, nociciception?
  • To what extent does neuron count correspond to suffering-like behaviors? Is this true even among phylogenetically related animals?

Evolutionary Biology

  • Can we draw inferences from life history strategies about the welfare of wild animals?
  • What do reproductive value models indicate about the trade-off between reproduction and survivorship? What inferences can we draw about the welfare of r-strategists?
  • What do evolutionary games tell us about population dynamics, survivorship and reproductive strategies?
  • What do evolutionary game models imply for individual welfare and well-being?
  • What are the selective advantages and disadvantages of negative experiences?

Population Ecology

  • What do long-run trends in population dynamics tell us about insect abundance on agricultural and urban land?
  • What can theoretical population models tell us about shifts in the populations of the most common species?
  • What does the dilution effect imply for the prevalence of disease and parasitism from human intervention in habitats?
  • An assessment of the feasibility of nonhuman animal population growth regulation as an intervention.

Humanity’s Impact on Wild-Animal Suffering

  • What is the net impact of ocean acidification and climate change on global phyto- / zooplankton abundance?
  • How do mild and severe eutrophication affect aquatic animal populations e.g., fish, zooplankton, nematodes?
  • An analysis of the effects of climate change on insect abundance.
  • Which biomes have higher net primary productivity? Which have higher wild animal populations?
  • Do tree farms have higher net primary productivity than native forests? How do animal populations compare between tree farms and native forests?
  • An analysis of the causal factors, such as weather fluctuations and resource competition, governing the population dynamics of ecosystems.
  • What is the net impact of crop cultivation on wild animals?
  • What is the net impact of pasture grazing on wild animals?
  • See Persis Eskander’s individual research plan

Wildlife Management

  • In which ways are wild animals already managed by human activities?
  • In which ways are wild animal populations already managed by human activities?
  • How do human actions indirectly interfere with the lives of wild animals e.g., translocation, introduced species?
  • How do human actions directly (but not with the goal of improving welfare) interfere in the lives of wild animals?
  • Are existing wild animal management methods net positive or negative?
  • See Ozy Brennan’s individual research plan

Social Research

Academic Field Growth

Social Movement Growth

  • In which situations do people value wild-animal welfare?
  • What were the most persuasive factors for convincing WAS advocates to care about WAS?
  • Which groups could effectively influence wild animal suffering? (E.g.: politicians, farmers, biologists, conservation organizations?)
  • What can we learn from related social movements about growth?

Cause Area Crossover

  • How does global poverty reduction affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing the risk of human extinction affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing the risk of astronomical suffering in the long-term future affect wild-animal suffering?
  • How does the long-term future affect wild-animal suffering? What do different scenarios of a long-term future suggest for wild-animal suffering?
  • How might the development of artificial intelligence affect wild-animal suffering?
  • What are the effects of global catastrophic risks on wild-animal suffering?
  • What are the implications of veg*ism and anti-factory farm advocacy on wild-animal suffering?
  • How does reducing, halting or reversing the effects of climate change affect wild-animal suffering?
  • Should wild-animal suffering be considered a global priority by effective altruists?