Student Projects
Behavioral responses of horses to familiar and unfamiliar vocalizations: an applied ethology project for Animal Science undergraduates.

K. Laughlin, M. Bouchey, B. Koenigsknecht, A. Malfroid, B. Wise, R. Zalewski, & A.J. Zanella
Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824

In order to consolidate the instruction of the scientific principles underlying applied ethology, and to enhance understanding of the practical considerations in this area of study, Animal Science students were given the opportunity to apply their skills within a research setting. Twenty-nine students carried out a study to examine the behavior of 18 Arabian horses, in response to playback of digitally recorded vocalizations from familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics. Groups of 3-4 students were assigned two horses to observe during the period of study.

Six geldings, six stallions, and six mares housed at MSU Horse Teaching and Research Center were studied over a period of three weeks, with each horse tested twice each week. Each observational period lasted 30 minutes per horse, with ten minutes of observation prior to the first vocalization, followed by ten minutes of observation prior to the second vocalization, and a final ten-minute observation period. Vocalization recordings were presented to the horses using a CD player placed in front of the individual stalls. Unfamiliar and familiar vocalizations were balanced across test days, and observers were unaware of the identity of vocalizations. Twenty-eight behaviors were recorded by both direct observation and videotape analysis, including body and head postures, ear movements and vocalizations. Analysis of the data using a general linear model analysis of variance with a repeated measures design showed significant differences in the frequency of head raising (GLM; F 1,178 = 4.30, p=0.04) and head lowering (GLM; F1,178 = 4.94, p=0.028) following familiar and unfamiliar vocalizations. Habituation effects over successive exposures and gender differences were shown for many of the behaviors, potentially confounding results, therefore no conclusive findings can be reported. However, the study allowed the students to gain practical experience of designing and executing a research project, analyzing and interpreting the data, and critically evaluating the outcome, in terms of its scientific merit and limitations of the playback experiment. These issues are explored further in the presentation.

This study highlights the way in which applied ethology can be incorporated into the teaching mission of Land Grant universities, utilizing the wealth of resources available at these institutions.

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