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Wildlife biologists use dogs' scat-sniffing talents for good
Date:1/11/2011

Berkeley It will come as no surprise to dog owners that their four-legged friends have a flair for sniffing out the excrement of other animals. Now, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, have trained dogs to detect the scat of other critters for the greater good to conduct more accurate surveys of wildlife.

"Wildlife detection dogs have been mostly used in airports to detect contraband, including endangered species and wildlife products, but in recent years, interest has grown in using the dogs to help scientists track biological targets in natural settings," said Sarah Reed, lead author of a paper documenting the dogs' performance that is published in the January issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management. "Working with dogs can greatly improve our ability to detect rare species and help us to understand how these species are responding to large-scale environmental changes, such as habitat loss and fragmentation."

Reed conducted the research while she was a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. She worked with study co-author Aimee Hurt, co-founder and associate director of Working Dogs for Conservation, a Montana-based nonprofit organization that promotes the training and use of dogs as a non-invasive tool for wildlife studies and management.

"Once the ability to extract and analyze DNA improved, researchers recognized the value of scat as a way to non-invasively monitor the location and population size of key species," said Hurt. "With scat, you can confirm the ID of species and even individuals, as well as analyze hormone levels and diet. It's a very valuable data deposit. So then it became a matter of finding ways to better track the scat, and dogs naturally came to mind."

But as with other tools and techniques used in science, the researchers wanted to calibrate the use of dogs in wildlife surveys.

"We wanted to record how f
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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