Our ability to study threatened and endangered species depends on locating them readily in the field. Recent studies highlight the effectiveness of trained detector dogs to locate wildlife during field surveys, including Desert Tortoises in a semi-natural setting. Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) are cryptic and difficult to detect during surveys, especially the smaller size classes. We conducted comparative surveys to determine whether human or detector dog teams were more effective at locating Desert Tortoises in the wild. We compared detectability of Desert Tortoises and the costs to deploy human and dog search teams. Detectability of tortoises was not statistically different for either team, and was estimated to be approximately 70% (SE = 5%). Dogs found a greater proportion of tortoises located in vegetation than did humans. The dog teams finished surveys 2.5 hours faster than the humans on average each day. The human team cost was approximately $3,000 less per square kilometer sampled. Dog teams provided a quick and effective method for surveying for adult Desert Tortoises; however, we were unable to determine-their effectiveness at locating smaller size classes. Detection of smaller size classes during surveys would improve management of the species and should be addressed by future research using Desert Tortoise detector dogs.
Additional publication details
Are wildlife detector dogs or people better at finding Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii)?