Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Animal Welfare Science and Ethics, Sustainable Food Systems, IRLFS (Research Programme), Brain Health and Behaviour

Research Centres: RVC Animal Welfare Science and Ethics

Siobhan is currently a Head of RVC Animal Welfare Science and Ethics group and Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science. She specialises in social behaviour, learning and cognition, behavioural approaches to assessing sensory capacities and animal welfare.

Siobhan graduated from University of Newcastle in 1994 with a BSc in Animal Science and went on to complete an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at University of Edinburgh (1995).

Siobhan’s PhD (University of Bristol, 2000), supervised by Prof Christine Nicol (University of Bristol) and Prof Christopher Wathes (Silsoe Research Institute) involved development of a common currency welfare assessment for exposure to concurrent stressors, using transport of poultry as a model. Siobhan subsequently joined Prof Wathes' research group as a postdoctoral researcher in poultry cognition, demonstrating that hens can show self-control and receiving the Worshipful Company of Poulters' 2002 Poulters' Prize for a significant contribution to the poultry industry by a young scientist.

In 2005 she joined the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) as a postdoctoral researcher and, via an RCUK Fellowship (2008), was appointed to an RVC lectureship in Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science in 2012. Siobhan was appointed Head of Group RVC Animal Welfare Science and Ethics in 2014.

Siobhan currently holds several external positions:

  • Council Member of Universities Federation of Animal Welfare and Trustee for the Humane Slaughter Association
  • Member of Science Advisory Board for the Dogs Trust internal research programme 
  • Member of British Hen Welfare Trust Scientific Research Committee
  • External Examiner University of Glasgow MSc Animal Welfare Ethics and Law
  • External Examiner University of Bristol BScVS

Siobhan's has general interest in developing and validating measurement of welfare across species, but her primary research interests lie in poultry behaviour, cognition and welfare; covering both fundamental and applied research..

Her current and recent projects include

  • “Envirobot: an autonomous roving platform for environmental, health and welfare monitoring of poultry.” with Dr Theo Demmers and Industry partners. Innovate UK (2019-2022)
  • "Measuring and monitoring the welfare of hens in cage-free systems." with Prof Christine Nicol & Dr Kate Norman. Oaklands Farm Eggs (2019-2021)
  • "Improving the welfare assessment of broiler chickens" with Prof Christine Nicol. Open Philanthropy\RSPCA (2018-2020)
  • "Robochick: an automonous platform for data-collection in poultry sheds" ith Dr Theo Demmers and Industry partners. Innovate UK (2018-2019)

Siobhan also currently supervises a number of Postgraduate students.  Justine Pearce is investigating artificial intelligence-enhanced continuous monitoring of individual locomotor dynamics to detect changes in poultry behaviour, health and welfare. Sophie Patel (MRes) is working on quantitatively describing the welfare of the UK’s broiler chickens for the British Poultry Council. Lola Brookes is investigating improvements in the welfare of amphibians used in research through refinement and replacement. Carlos Rebelos is investigating how electrical stunning of turkeys ducks and geese can be improved.

Siobhan’s past students include: Jade Hall (graduating 2019) who investigated whether posture and movement of birds can reflect personality and affective state.  Liane Preshaw (graduating 2018) who investigated development and validation of an equine welfare assessment protocol and equine euthanasia decisions. Sandra Sanchis Mora (graduating 2017) who investigated how diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of neuropathic pain in dogs can be improved. Emma Buckland (graduating 2015) who investigated objective indicators and human assessment of canine emotional states along with factors contributing to variation in their expression. Jen Jamieson (graduating 2013) who investigated knowledge attitudes and (consumer relevant) behaviour of adolescents with respect to farm animal welfare. Jen identified hitherto unrecognised key barriers to behaviour change essential to address as part of educational strategies. Her work was consulted for the FAWC Report on Education, Communication and Knowledge Application in Relation to Farm Animal Welfare (Dec 2011). Nick Gover (graduating 2013) investigated spatial and colour vision in chickens and how their visual abilities are affected by dim light (primary supervisor John Jarvis). Heather Morris (graduating 2007) investigated environmental management of injurious pecking in turkeys.

Siobhan’s previous research has investigated social behaviour and cognition in pigs and poultry (BBSRC Animal Welfare Initiative); visual perception in hens (BBSRC Animal Welfare Initiative); prioritisation of canine welfare issues (RSPCA); capacity of chickens to rationally discriminate future outcomes of choice using the self-control paradigm (BBSRC); gas stunning of poultry (Defra); development of a common currency welfare assessment for exposure to concurrent stressors (BBSRC); and welfare of deer during lairage and transport (SOAEFD).

ABEYESINGHE, S.M., CHANCELLOR, N.M. HERNANDEZ MOORE, D., CHANG, Y.-M., PEARCE, J., DEMMERS, T., & NICOL C.J. (2021). Associations between behaviour and health outcomes in conventional and slow-growing breeds of broiler chicken. Animal 15(7) 100261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.animal.2021.100261

LEWIS, R.N., , CHANG, Y.-M.,  FERGUSON, A., LEE, T., CLIFFORDE, L., & ABEYESINGHE, S.M. The effect of visitors on the behavior of zoo-housed western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla).  Zoo Biology 39(5) 283-293.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/zoo.21552

DENNIS, I., ABEYESINGHE, S.M., & DEMMER, T. The behaviour of commercial broilers in response to a mobile robot.  British Poultry Science.  Published online May 2020 https://doi.org/10.1080/00071668.2020.1759785

SANCHIS-MORA, S., CHANG, Y-M., ABEYESINGHE, S., FISHER, A., UPTON N, VOLK, H.A.,  & PELLIGAND, L., (2019) Pregabalin for the treatment of syringomyelia associated neuropathic pain in the dog, a randomised placebo-controlled double-blinded clinical trial. The Veterinary Journal 250, 55-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2019.06.006

MILROY, K., WHITING, M., & ABEYESINGHE, S. (2018) Reporting of suspected dog fighting by veterinary professionals. The Veterinary Record 183, 567. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.104753

SANCHIS-MORA, S., CHANG, Y-M., ABEYESINGHE, S., FISHER A., VOLK, H., & PELLIGAND, L. (2017) Development and initial validation of a sensory threshold examination protocol (STEP) for phenotyping canine pain syndromes. Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia 44(3): 600-614 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vaa.2016.09.004

HALL J., ABEYESINGHE, S.M., & DALEY, M. A. (2019) Interactions between personality expression and locomotor dynamics in helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris. Integrative and Comparative Biology 59: E328-E328.

SANCHIS-MORA, S.,  PELLIGAN, L. THOMAS, C. L., VOLK, H. A., ABEYESINGHE, S. M. BRODBELT, D. C., CHURCH, D. B. THOMSON, P. C., McGREEVY, P. D., & O'NEILL D. G. (2016) Dogs attending primary-care practice in England with clinical signs suggestive of Chiari-like malformation/syringomyelia. The Veterinary record 179(17): 436.http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/vr.103651

JAMIESON, J., REISS, M. J., ALLEN, D., ASHER L., PARKER, M. O., WATHES, C. M. & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2015). Adolescents care but dont feel responsible for farm animal welfare. Society and Animals 23(3): 269-297. dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685306-12341283

BUCKLAND, E.L., VOLK, H.A., BURN, C.C & ABEYESINGHE, S. M., (2014) Owner perceptions of companion dog expressions of positive emotional states and the contexts in which they occur. Animal Welfare 23 (3): 287-296 http://dx.doi.org/10.7120/09627286.23.3.287.

BUCKLAND, E.L., CORR, S., ABEYESINGHE, S. M., & WATHES, C. M. (2014) Prioritisation of companion dog welfare issues using expert consensus. Animal Welfare 23 (1): 39-46. http://dx.doi.org/10.7120/09627286.23.1.039

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., DREWE, J. A., ASHER, L., WATHES, C. M. & COLLINS, L. M. (2013). Do hens have friends? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 143, 61-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2012.12.003 [Article also featured in Veterinary Record 2013, 172: 48]. 

BUCKLAND, E.L., WHITING, M. C., ABEYESINGHE, S. M., ASHER, L., CORR, S. & WATHES, C. M. (2013) A survey of stakeholders' opinions on the priority issues affecting the welfare of companion dogs in Great Britain. Animal Welfare 22, 239-253. dx.doi.org/10.7120/09627286.22.2.239

RUTHERFORD, L., WESSMANN, A., RUSBRIDGE, C., McGONNELL, l.M., ABEYESINGHE, S., BURN, C. & VOLK, H. A. (2012). Questionnaire-based behaviour analysis of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with neuropathic pain due to Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia. The Veterinary Journal 194, 294-298. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.05.018

JAMIESON, J., REISS, M. J., ALLEN, D., ASHER L., WATHES, C. M. & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2012). Measuring the success of a farm animal welfare education event. Animal Welfare 21: 65-75. https://doi.org/10.7120/096272812799129402 [Article also featured in Veterinary Record 2012, 170:263].

O'CONNOR, E. A., PARKER, M.O., DAVEY, E. L., GRIST, H., OWEN, R. C., SZLADOVITS, B., DEMMERS, T. G., WATHES, C. M., & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2011) The effect of low light and high noise on behavioural activity, physiological indicators of stress and production in laying hens. British Poultry Science 52: 666-674. dx.doi.org/10.1080/00071668.2011.639342

O'CONNOR, E. A., SAUNDERS, J. E., GRIST, H., McLEMAN, M. A., WATHES, C. M., & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2011). The relationship between the comb and social behaviour in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 135: 293-299. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.09.011

ASHER, L. BUCKLAND, E. L., PHYLACTOPOULOS, C. I., WHITING, M. C., ABEYESINGHE, S. M. & WATHES, C. M. (2011). Estimation and demographics of the UK owned dog population. BMC Veterinary Research 7: 74. dx.doi.org/10.1186/1746-6148-7-74

O'CONNOR, E. A., PARKER, M. O., McLEMAN, M. A., DEMMERS, T. G., LOWE, J. C., CUI, L., DAVEY, E. L., OWEN, R. C., WATHES, C. M., & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2010). The impact of chronic environmental stressors on growing pigs, Sus Scrofa (Part 1): stress physiology, production and play behaviour. Animal 4: 1899-1909. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S1751731110001072 

PARKER, M. O., O'CONNOR, E. A., McLEMAN, M. A., DEMMERS, T. G., LOWE, J. C., OWEN, R. C., DAVEY, E. L., WATHES, C. M. & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2010). The impact of chronic environmental stressors on growing pigs, Sus Scrofa (Part 2): social behaviour. Animal 4:1910-1921. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S1751731110001084

GOVER, N., JARVIS, J. R., ABEYESINGHE, S. M. & WATHES, C. M. (2009) Stimulus luminance and the spatial acuity of domestic fowl (Gallus g. domesticus). Vision Research, 49(23): 2747-2753. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2009.08.011

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., McLEMAN, M. A., OWEN, R. C., McMAHON C. E. & WATHES, C. M. (2009). Investigating social discrimination of group members by laying hens. Behavioural Processes 81:1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2008.11.017

JARVIS, J. R., ABEYESINGHE, S. M., McMAHON C. E. & WATHES, C. M. (2009). Measuring and modelling the spatial contrast sensitivity of the domestic fowl (Gallus g. domesticus). Vision Research. 49:1448-1454. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2009.02.019

MCKEEGAN, D. E., ABEYESINGHE, S. M., MCLEMAN, M. A., LOWE, J. C., DEMMERS, T. G., WHITE, R. P., KRANEN, R. W., VAN BEMMEL, H., LANKHAAR, J. A. & WATHES, C. M. (2007) Controlled atmosphere stunning of broiler chickens. II. Effects on behaviour, physiology and meat quality in a commercial processing plant. British Poultry Science 48: 430-442. PubMed ID 17701496 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00071660701543097

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., MCKEEGAN, D. E., MCLEMAN, M. A., LOWE, J. C., DEMMERS, T. G., WHITE, R. P., KRANEN, R. W., VAN BEMMEL, H., LANKHAAR, J. A. & WATHES, C. M. (2007) Controlled atmosphere stunning of broiler chickens. I. Effects on behaviour, physiology and meat quality in a pilot scale system at a processing plant. British Poultry Science 48: 406-423. PubMed ID 17701494. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00071660701543089

LOWE, J., ABEYESINGHE, S.M, DEMMERS, T.G.M., WATHES, C.M. & MCKEEGAN, D.E.F. (2007). A novel telemetric logging system for recording physiological signals in unrestrained animals. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 57: 74-79. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compag.2007.02.003

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., NICOL, C. J., HARTNELL S.J. & WATHES, C. M., (2005). Can domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, show self-control? Animal Behaviour 70: 1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.10.011

MACCALUIM, J. M., ABEYESINGHE, S. M. & WATHES, C. M., (2003). A continuous choice assessment of the domestic fowl’s aversion to concurrent transport stressors. Animal Welfare 12: 95-107.paper

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., NICOL, C. J., WATHES, C. M. & RANDALL, J. M. (2001). Development of a raceway method to assess aversion of domestic fowl to concurrent stressors. Behavioural Processes 56: 175-194. PubMed ID 11738510. paper

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., WATHES, C. M., NICOL, C. J. & RANDALL, J. M. (2001). The aversion of broiler chickens to concurrent vibrational and thermal stressors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 73: 199-215. PubMed ID 11376838 paper

ABEYESINGHE, S. M. & GODDARD, P. J. (1998). The preferences and behaviour of farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus) in the presence of other farmed species. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 56: 59-69. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(97)00079-8

ABEYESINGHE, S. M. , GODDARD, P. J. & COCKRAM, M. S. (1997). The behavioural and physiological responses of farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus) penned adjacent to other species in simulated abattoir lairage. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 55: 163-175. paper

Siobhan has a postgraduate certificate in Veterinary Education (with distinction) and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

She currently teaches animal behaviour, welfare science and animal handling to undergraduates studying Animal Biology Behaviour Welfare and Ethics; Biological and Bio-veterinary Sciences; Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Nursing and she supervises a number of undergraduate and taught postgraduate projects annually.

She is also an academic tutor for undergraduates studying science and for postgraduate students.  

 

Siobhan is working closely with clinicians to further application of research and research findings to clinical practice.

Siobhan is also involved in public engagement activities, particularly engaging school children in animal welfare and behaviour science.

Her activities have included running masterclasses on recording animal behaviour and understanding animal welfare and public speaking on chicken cognition and behaviour. She has also run an event on chicken biology and welfare and food labelling (Inside Chicken Run), first developed as part of National Science Week 2009, sponsored by RCUK but has since been run at RVC several times very successfully, as well as by invitation at celebrity Jimmy Doherty's Science Festival during National Science week 2010. Siobhan and her student Jen Jamieson were runners up in the national BBSRC Social Innovator of the Year 2011 competition for this work. She was also central to a primary school Royal Society Partnership Project (2011) to inspire and engage the future generation of scientists using animal behaviour which involved training chickens.

In 2013 Siobhan presented her research ‘Do hens have friends’ at the Ignoble Awards Tour. She has been interviewed about chicken cognition on BBC World News (2013) and was involved in the 2010 BBC Scotland TV programme 'The Private Life of Chickens'.
 

  • Assessing and Improving Animal Welfare

    Genetics and management can greatly affect the welfare of farm, laboratory, companion and wild animals. We aim to improve animal welfare by understanding how human activities and management practices affect the welfare of animals that are kept, killed or otherwise impacted by humans. Comparative research can identify practices that generally elicit poor or good welfare outcomes, providing evidence that can be used to support initiatives to improve animal welfare. 


  • Development of welfare assessment protocols and technology

    Assessment of animal welfare is continually being improved using new insights in animal behaviour, non-invasive physiological methods, animal-environment interactions, and novel monitoring systems for animal responses and behaviours. 

    Some of our work aims to develop a more fundamental understanding of which measures (e.g. behaviour, activity, posture etc) should most appropriately be targeted with sensor technology. However, technology is not always feasible (or even desirable) in some sectors, so we develop welfare assessments that are valid and practical in whatever context they are needed and tailored to the specific welfare aim.


  • Ethics of animal use and management

    Animal welfare issues often arise when there are conflicts of interest between humans and animals. This poses challenges around whose interests to prioritise, and what actions can be taken to produce the best moral outcome. The needs and wants of human, animal, and even environmental stakeholders must be understood and evaluated to decide what is the right course of action, but different ethicists and stakeholders may disagree about the conclusions of any ethical analysis. For example, unnecessary suffering must not be caused to legally protected animals, but what counts as ‘suffering’, when is it really ‘necessary’, and which animals should be protected? Evidence must be gathered and some consensus must be agreed upon as to weight the different possible actions.


  • Fundamental understanding of welfare

    Animal welfare refers to animal feelings, health, and environmental suitability. These projects explore which animals are sentient and what feelings they have, and how behaviour, health, environments, and welfare interrelate. We use a wide range of techniques to investigate these fundamental questions, each of which is tailored to the particular hypothesis and species involved. Emotions are subjective (private) to the individual experiencing them, which makes them challenging to investigate scientifically. 


  • Humane slaughter

    Livestock and other animals are stunned and dispatch for slaughter, disease control and population management.

    The RVC has a well-established Animal Welfare Science and Ethics research centre and members of the team study methods of stunning and dispatch of a variety of species in a variety of settings. The research is designed to help systems evolve and become more humane and less stressful for animals.

    The research is shared with stakeholders, which enables them to make scientifically informed changes that reduce animal distress.


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