Cornell Atkinson Venture Fund Awarded to Trail Conference Conservation Dogs Program and Collaborators

August 13, 2020
Arden Blumenthal
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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Cornell Atkinson Venture Fund Awarded to Trail Conference Conservation Dogs Program and Collaborators
Conservation dogs spotted lanternfly car search. Photo by Arden Blumenthal.

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As the invasive insect spotted lanternfly (SLF) encroaches closer and closer to New York State forests and agriculture, New York state agencies have made finding and intercepting SLF before it can reach New York a priority.  And now that the nearest infestation is only 25 miles from the border, early detection and elimination of SLF infestations before they become established is critical to preventing agricultural damage and degradation of natural areas.  Detecting populations while they are still small and not established would not only reduce the overall negative impacts of SLF but also the cost of damages and management. 

To address this urgent issue, many innovative methods have been developed in addition to traditional search strategies, including the use of drones, environmental DNA (eDNA) and conservation detection dogs.  The Conservation Dogs Program successfully trained its two dogs Dia and Fagen to detect spotted lanternfly adults in summer 2019.  Since then, they’ve been advancing the dogs’ training, integrating different life cycles of the insect pest as well as several possible search locations. The question is: how effective is the use of detection dogs as a search strategy in comparison to traditional searches? That’s what the Trail Conference Conservation Dogs Program, along with Cornell University researchers Carrie Brown-Lima and Angela Fuller from the Natural resources department and Ann Hajek and Greg Loeb from the entomology department and partners at NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Working Dogs for Conservation want to find out.  The group of collaborators has recently been awarded one of seven grants through the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.  In its 13th year, the Atkinson Venture Fund (AVF) has awarded over $1.1 million dollars to highly innovative and collaborative projects.  By supporting projects that emphasize cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation, AVF may help establish the viability of some unproven research ideas so that they can receive funding from external sources in the future.  

The project will focus on quantifying the potential of using dogs to detect spotted lanternfly egg masses in one of the highest risk agricultural settings: vineyards. Researchers will be using the data collected by the Conservation Dogs Program and human searchers to create an occupancy model. This model will estimate how likely SLF is to be found in a given location and how likely a dog versus a human is to find it. Overall, the study will evaluate where SLF is expected to be found in a given location and how conservation detection dogs can be used for early detection of SLF under different environmental factors. The hope is that the results of this study will provide state agencies with tools to choose the best search methods for SLF.  Not only that, but the Conservation Dogs Program believes this study will lay the groundwork for future use of the conservation detection dog method for the early detection of other detrimental insect species.

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