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NSF gives official recognition to Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research

By Ellen Paul


Ornithologists applying for and receiving NSF grants can now be assured that the animal welfare guide written by and for ornithologists has been officially accepted by NSF as the appropriate standard for Animal Welfare Act compliance. The National Science Foundation has revised its Grant Proposal Guide to recognize Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research as an official reference document for Animal Welfare Act compliance. This publication, along with similar guides for mammals, fishes, and herpetofauna, was first created – at the prompting of and with funding from NSF but it was not accepted by any federal agency as an official standard... until now.
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The National Science Foundation has revised its Grant Proposal Guide to recognize Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research as an official reference document for Animal Welfare Act compliance. This publication, along with similar guides for mammals, fishes, and herpetofauna, was first created – at the prompting of and with funding from NSF but it was not accepted by any federal agency as an official standard until now.

On page 13-1, the text now reads:

6. Proposals Involving Vertebrate Animals
a. Any project proposing use of vertebrate animals for research or education shall comply with the Animal Welfare Act [7 U.S.C. 2131 et seq.] and the regulations promulgated thereunder by the Secretary of Agriculture [9 CFR 1.1-4.11] pertaining to the humane care, handling, and treatment of vertebrate animals held or used for research, teaching or other activities supported by Federal awards. In accordance with these requirements, proposed projects involving use of any vertebrate animal for research or education must be approved by the submitting organization's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) before an award can be made. For this approval to be accepted by NSF, the organization must have a current Public Health Service (PHS) Approved Assurance.

In the case of research involving the study of wildlife in the field or in the lab, for the provision in the PHS Assurance for Institutional Commitment (Section II) that requires the organization to establish and maintain a program for activities involving animals in accordance with the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (Guide), the organization has established and will maintain a program for activities involving animals according to the Guide. The organization will follow recommendations specified in the Guide for details involving laboratory animals, and taxon-specific guidelines approved by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the Ornithological Council, as is appropriate for the taxon to be studied. 38

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Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research: http://www.nmnh.si.e...uide/index.html
Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research: http://www.mammalsoc...mals-research-0
Guidelines for the Use of Fishes in Research: http://fisheries.org...s/policy_16.pdf
Guidelines for the Use of Live Amphibians and Reptiles in Field and Laboratory Research: http://www.asih.org/.../hacc-final.pdf

For years, federal agencies have premised Animal Welfare Act compliance on conformance with The Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, published by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, a section of the Board of Earth and Life Sciences of the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science. Only a half-page of this publication, which is more commonly known as “The Guide,” addresses “field investigations.” Thus, beyond general principles of animal welfare such as the “alternatives” concept, The Guide is not informative for investigators or animal care and use committees attempting to design and evaluate research protocols for Animal Welfare Act compliance. This situation is not surprising given that The Guide is a product developed from decades of animal welfare oversight that originated from and focused entirely on the use of animals in biomedical research (Sikes et al. 2012). The publication was written by and for the biomedical community, even as more recent revisions added brief discussions of wildlife biology.

The National Science Foundation, which funds the most substantial part of wildlife research, has also required adherence to the PHS policy. The lack of guidance relevant to wildlife biology prompted NSF to reach out to the presidents of the appropriate scientific societies in 1986, including the American Ornithologists’ Union, to urge them to develop guidelines for the appropriate handling of their taxa. Funding from the NSF facilitated these efforts and 1988 saw the publication of taxon-based guidelines for mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and fishes (Orlans, 1988). Most of these society guidelines are already recognized as reference resources by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs.

The Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research built on an earlier publication by the the American Ornithologists’ Union, which in 1975 first published the Report of the American Ornithologists' Union ad hoc Committee on the Scientific and Educational Use of Wild Birds. With the encouragement of and funding from NSF, the AOU joined with the Cooper Ornithological Society, and the Wilson Ornithological Society to publish the first edition of Guidelines for the Use of Wild Birds in Research. When the Ornithological Council was formed by these societies, together with the Waterbird Society, the Raptor Research Foundation, and the Association of Field Ornithologists, responsibility for periodic revision of Guidelines was assigned to the Ornithological Council. A major revision was published in 1997, followed by a minor revision in 1999. Each iteration has been peer-reviewed, as was the most recent major revision published in 2010.

[Read more about the history and most recent revision of Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research].

The Ornithological Council thanks the National Science Foundation and, in particular, BIO Director John Wingfield and BIO Assistant Deputy Director Joann Roskoski, along with Diane Witt, the program director in Integrative Organismal Systems/BIO who also manages NSF’s Animal Welfare Act compliance oversight, for taking this important measure. We also thank the American Society of Mammalogists and Robert S. Sikes, who chairs ASM Animal Care and Use Committee, for their invaluable partnership.

Literature cited

Sikes, R.S., E. Paul, and S.J. Beaupre. 2012. Standards for wildlife research: taxon-specific guidelines versus U.S. Public Health Service Policy. BioScience 62:830-834. DOI: 10.1525/bio.2012.62.9.9


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