Scientists’ Best Friend: Detection Dogs Help Get Crucial Data for Conservation, Research

Nature

The records of Earth’s endangered plants and animals are increasingly getting longer. But to put an end to this movement, we need extra information. It is sometimes impossible to search out specifically where the individual species can be discovered and how their populations are advancing. 

According to recent synopsis research released in Methods of Ecology and Evolution by Dr. Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and her colleagues, trained specialist detection dogs can be critical in such cases.

The species sought can usually be found faster with the help of these dogs and more productively than with other methods.

Dog

(Photo : Lukas Kovacik)

Puzzling Issues in the Research

Do urban hedgehogs have to deal with different problems than their rural conspecifics? How many otters are there still in Germany? And What habitats do threatened crested newts use on land? Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth explained that anybody hoping to productively guide a species should be able to answer such questions. 

But this is not easy by any means. A lot of animals stay in hiding — even their droppings can be impossible to locate. Hence, it is sometimes impossible to tell exactly whether and at what rate their stocks are decreasing or where the remaining ones alive are. But first, we must find them.

Distant sensing with aerial and satellite pictures helps detect larger animals or mapping open landscapes. But when it comes to densely overgrown regions and little hidden species, specialists sometimes search it themselves or use hair traps, cameras, and similar tricks. 

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Examining Percentage Trace of DNA 

Other methods for example examining trace percentages of DNA have also been enticing increasing interest globally. The use of trained special detection dogs can also be especially useful. A dog’s sense of smell after all is practically predestined to locate the smallest traces of the target species. A herding dog has more than 200 million while humans have about six million olfactory receptors and a beagle even 300 million. 

This suggests that dogs can perceive an incredibly wide range of odors, frequently in the tiniest pursuits. For instance, they can skillfully locate droppings of animals in plants or forests, animals underground, and mushrooms.

Dog

(Photo : K Zoltan)

Research on the Potential of Detection Dogs

At the Centre for Environmental Research, the detection dogs have already demonstrated their abilities in some project findings. Grimm-Seyfarth explained that “Inorder to analyze their capacity very well, we wanted to understand how detection dogs have once been used around the world”. 

Jointly with employee Dr. Anne Berger and Wiebke Harms from the Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin and Leibniz Institute for Zoo, examination of 1220 journals reporting the use of such search dogs in over 60 countries was made, disclosing that they were extremely interested in the breeds of dogs that were used, the species they were supposed to track down, and how well they performed.

New Zealand has the longest experience with detection dogs, where dogs have been tracing endangered birds since about 1890. Ever since, the notion has been enforced in many other areas, particularly in Europe and North America. 

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