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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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
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
Detection dogs have been found to be effective at surveying for water voles
UK Government press release
Detection dogs have been effective at locating pine marten scats enabling abundance estimates and genetic studies
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.
People's Trust for Endangered Species and Hartpury College are currently conducting trials
Detection dogs are used to detect red squirrel carcasses and are a useful tool in managing squirrel pox outbreaks
For example, detection dogs are being used in Orkney to track non-native stoats which are harmful to ground-nesting birds.
Trials are currently being planned
Initial trials are being conducted
In Europe, dogs were found to be able to discriminate between otter and mink scat with 95% accuracy
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
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)
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
Internationally, dogs have been successful in detecting rare plants
McLean, I. G., & Sargisson, R. J. (2017). A dog as a generalist plant detection tool. Weed Research, 57(4), 287-292.
Dogs have been successful in detecting invasive plants adding value to eradication efforts
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)