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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Conservation Canines @ U. of Washington

Dieter L drew my attention to this, thanks! Since I work on genetic capture-recapture of elusive species this amazed me, especially the "matching dogs" (See last paragraph)

Conservation Canines
Our center developed the scat detection dog program in 1997. Having pioneered the development and application of many of the fecal-based hormone and genetic techniques widely used today, we realized the need for a sampling method that would increase sample acquisition over large remote areas, while reducing bias associated with unequal capture probabilities common with other sampling techniques. We collaborated with Sgt. Barbara Davenport, Master Canine Trainer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, modifying narcotics detection dog methods to train dogs to locate scat from endangered species. Our scat detection dogs are now being used to maximize sample collections over large remote landscapes, for use in a wide variety of population-based ecological, genetic and physiological studies. Our training methods are thoroughly described and validated in the following publication: Scat detection dogs in wildlife research and management: application to grizzly and black bears in the Yellowhead Ecosystem, Alberta Canada. Wasser et al. 2004. The ideal detection dog has an excessive, highly focused play drive. They live to play fetch. These dogs happily work all day long, motivated by the expectation of a tennis ball play reward upon sample detection. The obsessive, high-energy personalities of detection dogs also make them difficult to maintain as pets. As a result, they frequently find themselves abandoned to animal shelters, facing euthanasia. We rescue these dogs and offer them a satisfying career in conservation research.

The Research

Since 1997, we have deployed our conservation canines in numerous projects around the world, noninvasively providing vast amounts of information on resource selection, genetics and physiology to address conservation problems around the world. Such information has proved vital for determining the causes and consequences of human disturbances on wildlife as well as the actions needed to mitigate such impacts in species as diverse as killer whales, Pacific fisher, grizzly bear, caribou, moose and wolves, cougar, jaguar, giant anteater and giant armadillo.

We have built a state-of-the-art dog kennel on a 4300 acre forested facility at the UW Pack Forest in Eatonville, WA. Our kennel holds up to 30 detection dogs and is built on land that allows us to simulate a wide variety of real-life field conditions for training.
Pack Forest provides permanent housing for our dog handlers and conference facilities that can accommodate large parties for training and/or capacity building workshops. The kennels also include specialized facilities for conducting canine-based scent matching work to replace expensive DNA analyses used to assign individual identity to wildlife scat. The latter technique greatly enhances the affordability and hence accessibility of our methods to the broader conservation community. Matching

Dogs Can Replace DNA Analyses

We trained dogs to match scat samples collected from the same individual in order to reduce or eliminate the time and financial costs of DNA analyses. Our matching dogs can reliably match samples from individuals whose low genetic diversity may prohibit DNA discrimination at the individual level-a common problem among endangered species. They can also accurately match samples that would otherwise have to be discarded because they are too degraded for DNA analysis. Once samples are grouped by the individual, a single sample from each group can still be selected for DNA amplification to genetically mark the individual, providing more cost-effective means of acquiring the same data from more exhaustive DNA analyses. This approach can save tens of thousands of dollars in DNA analysis costs, greatly enhancing the accessibility of these powerful noninvasive methods to conservation programs whose budgets are limited.

Please visit Conservation Canines for more information & meet them here!

Wasser SK, Smith H, Madden L, Marks N, Vynne C (2009)Scent-Matching Dogs Determine Number of Unique Individuals From Scat. JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT 73(7):1233–1240

Noninvasive scat sampling methods can generate large samples sizes, collected over vast landscapes, ideal for addressing wildlife conservation and management questions. However, the cost of genotyping scat samples limits the accessibility of these techniques. We describe detection-dog methods for matching large numbers of scat samples to the individual, reducing or eliminating the need for sample genotyping. Three dogs correctly matched 25 out of 28 samples from 6 captive maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) of known identity. Sample scent-matching can increase overall accessibility and breadth of applications of noninvasive scat-collection methods to important landscape scale problems in wildlife sciences.

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