How empirical sciences may improve livestock welfare and help their management
Impact of group management and transfer on individual sociality in Highland cattle (Bos Taurus)
Recommendation: posted 07 September 2018, validated 16 October 2018
Understanding how livestock management is a source of social stress and disturbances for cattle is an important question with potential applications for animal welfare programs and sustainable development. In their article, Sosa and colleagues  first propose to evaluate the effects of individual characteristics on dyadic social relationships and on the social dynamics of four groups of cattle. Using network analyses, the authors provide an interesting and complete picture of dyadic interactions among groupmates. Although shown elsewhere, the authors demonstrate that individuals that are close in age and close in rank form stronger dyadic associations than other pairs. Second, the authors take advantage of some transfers of animals between groups -for management purposes- to assess how these transfers affect the social dynamics of groupmates. Their central finding is that the identity of transferred animals is a key-point. In particular, removing offspring strongly destabilizes the social relationships of mothers while adding a bull into a group also profoundly impacts female-female social relationships, as social networks before and after transfer of these key-animals are completely different. In addition, individuals, especially the young ones, that are transferred without familiar conspecifics take more time to socialize with their new group members than individuals transferred with familiar groupmates, generating a potential source of stress. Interestingly, the authors end up their article with some thoughts on the implications of their findings for animal welfare and ethics. This study provides additional evidence that empirical science has a major role to play in providing recommendations regarding societal questions such as livestock management and animal wellbeing.
 Sosa, S., Pelé, M., Debergue, E., Kuntz, C., Keller, B., Robic, F., Siegwalt-Baudin, F., Richer, C., Ramos, A., & Sueur C. (2018). Impact of group management and transfer on individual sociality in Highland cattle (Bos Taurus). arXiv:1805.11553v4 [q-bio.PE] peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecol. https://arxiv.org/abs/1805.11553v4
Marie Charpentier (2018) How empirical sciences may improve livestock welfare and help their management. Peer Community in Ecology, 100003. 10.24072/pci.ecology.100003
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article. The authors declared that they comply with the PCI rule of having no financial conflicts of interest in relation to the content of the article.
Evaluation round #2
DOI or URL of the preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/1805.11553v2
Version of the preprint: 2
Author's Reply, 07 Sep 2018
Decision by Marie Charpentier, posted 07 Sep 2018
I only have minor comments regarding this revised version (I’m sorry for the time it took). Alecia Carter proposed an additional analysis (“a direct comparison could be made between Rob group’s 2nd observation periods and Rol group if Rol group’s data were broken into similarly-sized time periods. The same could be done for Rob group’s second and third changes (enclosure change) with Nie and Stu groups in the same period”) that authors should definitively follow. This would improve greatly the article. However, if the authors cannot run these analyses, they should explain it clearly in their next response. Otherwise, I’m happy with the responses the authors provided. The only very last point, but I’m not sure how PCI deals with these questions, the article probably needs to be carefully edited for the English, although I’m, myself, not an English-native speaker!
Alecia's minor additional (related) comment: "One little point: I seemed to miss that the manuscript compared the networks after the transfer to networks that didn't have a transfer (as a control); the authors said that this was already done. If so, I think this needs to be made clearer as I really didn't understand that from the manuscript. If I wasn't clear and the authors didn't understand my point, then I still think this could improve the manuscript."
Reviewed by Alecia CARTER, 06 Sep 2018
Reviewed by anonymous reviewer 1, 21 Aug 2018
Evaluation round #1
DOI or URL of the preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/1805.11553v1
Version of the preprint: 1
Author's Reply, 19 Jul 2018
Decision by Marie Charpentier, posted 19 Jul 2018
Both reviewers and I agree that the article submitted by Sosa et al. is a nice piece of work. Reviewers have, however, suggested interesting ways to strengthen authors’ findings. In particular, reviewer 1 proposes an alternative analysis (compare changes in network’s metrics with and without exogenous changes) that I suggest to explore. This reviewer also asks for a better presentation of the predictions. Finally, both reviewers provide useful corrections that should help authors to improve the reading. I also suggest to follow these corrections carefully. Pending these changes, I would be glad to read a new improved version of the manuscript to eventually recommend it.