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      Performance of detection dogs and visual searches for scat detection and discrimination amongst related species with identical diets

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      Nature Conservation

      Pensoft Publishers

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          Abstract

          Ecology often faces the problem that many threatened species are highly elusive but also conflict-laden. Thus, proper monitoring data are inevitable for their conservation and management. Indirect monitoring through scats is frequently used for such species, but scats of related species or species with similar diet are often visually indistinguishable. Since genetic methods for species identification are time-consuming and cost-intensive, a verification of the target species beforehand would be extremely beneficial in reducing effort to the analysis of the target species only. Such species discrimination could be provided through species-specific scat detection dogs. Therefore, we evaluated the reliability of species-specific scat detection dogs for two mustelid species feeding on identical diets: the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the American mink (Neovison vison), both of which are conflict-laden and increasing their populations and distribution ranges in central Europe. Their scats resemble each other in morphology and odour, exacerbating the differentiation even for experts. To evaluate whether detection dogs can reliably discriminate between related species feeding on similar diets and if their use would be beneficial, we tested their abilities against those of humans. We first proved that scat characteristics are not statistically different between species. Likewise, visual species identification through people with different experience levels was only partly successful. Experts showed higher average accuracy (0.89) than non-experts (0.72 and below), but detection dogs (4 dogs) were able to discriminate otter and mink scats under laboratory conditions with an accuracy of 0.95. Moreover, otter scat detection dogs found up to four times more scat samples in the field, were twice as fast as human searchers and found an almost equal number of scats with different characteristics, while humans mostly found older and larger scats placed on hotspots. We conclude that using detection dogs for species identity will allow subsequent laboratory analyses to be species-specific and avoid spending time and money on laboratory work of the wrong species. It also provides more precise and unbiased information about the target species.

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          Most cited references 25

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          On the origin of faeces: morphological versus molecular methods for surveying rare carnivores from their scats

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            The impact of native competitors on an alien invasive: temporal niche shifts to avoid interspecific aggression?

            The American mink, Neovison vison, is an established, alien invasive species in the United Kingdom that originally colonized the country at a time when two native mustelids (otters, Lutra lutra, and polecats, Mustela putorius) were largely absent. Both of these species are now recovering their populations nationally. We compared the relative abundance and the behavior of mink in the 1990s and in the 2000s in an area of southern England where both otters and polecats were absent in the 1990s but reappeared in the intervening years. We found that mink were still abundant in the 2000s in the presence of otters and polecats, but that they appeared to have altered some aspects of their behavior. In accordance with previous studies, we found that mink consumed fewer fish in the presence of otters. We also found that mink were predominantly nocturnal in the 1990s (in the absence of competitors) but were predominantly diurnal in the 2000s (in the presence of competitors). We hypothesize that this temporal shift may be an avoidance mechanism allowing the coexistence of mink with the otter and the polecat, although we are unable to attribute the shift to one or the other species. We also found that mink in the presence of competitors weighed less but remained the same size, suggesting the possibility of a competitor-mediated decline in overall body condition. This is one of very few field studies demonstrating a complete temporal shift in apparent response to competitors. The implications of this study are that recovering otter populations may not lead to significant and long-term reductions in the number of invasive mink in the United Kingdom as has been suggested in the media, although we cannot exclude the possibility of a decline in mink in the longer-term.
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              Comparing Scat Detection Dogs, Cameras, and Hair Snares for Surveying Carnivores

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature Conservation
                NC
                Pensoft Publishers
                1314-3301
                1314-6947
                December 04 2019
                December 04 2019
                : 37
                : 81-98
                Article
                10.3897/natureconservation.37.48208
                © 2019

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