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How can dogs be useful in ecology and conservation?

Detection dogs can be a valuable tool in ecological surveying, often enabling improved search efficiency and detection rates over traditional survey methods. They have been successfully used to find wildlife, carcasses, scats, pathogens and plants. They may be particularly useful for locating signs of cryptic species, species at lower densities and/or covering extensive areas. There are many examples of applications where dogs have been useful tools so far and many further possibilities to be explored!

Photo Credit: Atkins

This pages summarises ways that detection dogs have been used with species relevant to the Britain and Ireland. It is of course imperative that search techniques avoid harm either to the target species or to any other wildlife in the area. Some of these species require a license from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Republic of Ireland in order for detection dogs to be used in surveys. We aim to keep it up to date. Please contact us if you have any information to add or change. Thank you!

 

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Bats

Dogs successfully detected bat carcasses during mortality monitoring at windfarm sites in the UK. 

Internationally, dogs have also been trialled in the detection of bat roosts

Mathews, F., Swindells, M., Goodhead, R., August, T. A., Hardman, P., Linton, D. M., & Hosken, D. J. (2013). Effectiveness of search dogs compared with human observers in locating bat carcasses at wind‐turbine sites: A blinded randomized trial. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 37(1), 34-40.

Stanhope, K. (2015) Ecological Monitoring using Wildlife Detection Dogs: Bat Carcass Searchers at the Wanlip Wind Turbine. CIEEM In Practice, Issue 88, 29-32

Chambers, Carol L., Vojta, Christina D., Mering, Elisabeth D., Davenport, Barbara (2015) Efficacy of scent detection dogs for locating bat roosts in trees and snags

Wildlife Society Bulletin,, Vol.39(4), pp.780-787

Bats

Great Crested Newts

The use of dogs to detect GCN has undergone efficacy trials in the UK and is in use on some projects. A method for a potential accreditation process of GCN detection dogs was published in CIEEM In Practice magazine in September 2019. 

Great Crested Newts

Stanhope, K. & Sloan, V. (2019) Proposed Method for Testing and Accreditation of Great Crested Newt Detection Dogs. CIEEM In Practice, Issue 105, 36-40

Water Voles

Detection dogs have been found to be effective at surveying for water voles

Water Voles

UK Government press release

Pine Marten

Detection dogs have been effective at locating pine marten scats enabling abundance estimates and genetic studies

Pine Marten

Sheehy, E., O’Meara, D. B., O’Reilly, C., Smart, A., & Lawton, C. (2014). A non-invasive approach to determining pine marten abundance and predation. European journal of wildlife research, 60(2), 223-236.

Hedgehogs

People's Trust for Endangered Species and Hartpury College are currently conducting trials 

Hedgehogs

Red Squirrels

Detection dogs are used to detect red squirrel carcasses and are a useful tool in managing squirrel pox outbreaks

Red Squirrels

Non-Natives

For example, detection dogs are being used in Orkney to track non-native stoats which are harmful to ground-nesting birds.

Non-Natives

Dormice

Trials are currently being planned 

Dormice

Harvest Mice

Harvest Mice

Initial trials are being conducted

Otter

In Europe, dogs were found to be able to discriminate between otter and mink scat with 95% accuracy

Otter

Grimm-Seyfarth, A., Zarzycka, A., Nitz, T., Heynig, L., Weissheimer, N., Lampa, S., & Klenke, R. (2019). Performance of detection dogs and visual searches for scat detection and discrimination amongst related species with identical diets. Nature Conservat

Badgers

In Europe, detection dogs have been used to determine badger and raccoon dog home range. The use of detection dogs was found to be cheaper than alternative survey methods (telemetry)

Badgers

Kauhala, K., & Salonen, L. (2012). Does a non-invasive method–latrine surveys–reveal habitat preferences of raccoon dogs and badgers?. Mammalian Biology-Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, 77(4), 264-270

Rare Plants

Internationally, dogs have been successful in detecting rare plants

Rare Plants

McLean, I. G., & Sargisson, R. J. (2017). A dog as a generalist plant detection tool. Weed Research, 57(4), 287-292.

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Invasive Plants

Dogs have been successful in detecting invasive plants adding value to eradication efforts

Invasive Plants

BBC Article (2019) Work like a dog: Sniffing out Japanese knotweed 

Goodwin et al (2010) Trained dogs outperform surveyors in the detection of rare spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoke)

Photo credit: Angus MacAskill, Flickr