An analysis of animal behavior studies finds that most research on animals is performed during breeding seasons, leaving a void in animal behavior data, an Oklahoma State University assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management says.
In partnering with Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists, professor Scott Loss said the analysis of 2,000 scientific articles from a period of 18 years covered amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The analysis found that 73%of all studies take place during a single season, and 61% of the studies took place only during the species' breeding season.
"The breeding season is only a part of the year," Loss said. "It's an important part, but for most animal species, we don't know what's going on for the rest of the year."
While researchers were looking at what season other researchers were focusing on, and if any of them considered more than one season, they also looked for studies that considered carryover effects – when events during one period continue to influence individual animals and animal populations during subsequent periods.
"Carryover effects, also called seasonal interactions, can have major ramifications for animal biology," Loss said.
Using spring migration in birds as an example, Loss said if a bird hits a window and dies while en route to its breeding ground, it can't even attempt to breed.
"This event during migration could influence the abundance of that species during later seasons. Conservation efforts focused only on an understanding of what happens to this species during the breeding season would overlook this potentially important event."
Part of the reason breeding season is of great focus to researchers may be the lack of funding and technology to look at other periods, or even the academic calendar, which often constrains researchers to collecting data only during the summer.
"It's technologically difficult to follow animals. If someone wants to research sea turtles, they have to wait until a short period when the turtles come ashore to lay eggs," said Loss. "Tracking turtles during the vast majority of their time spent at sea is extremely expensive and difficult."
However, there are new technologies emerging that can be used for many types of animals to study them throughout the year, such as miniature tracking devices that use cell phone towers or satellites and GPS.
"There is a dogma that breeding is more important that anything else," Loss said. "I would argue that, for most animal species, we don't have enough information from the entire year to say that is the case."