A super skilled sniffer dog called Freya is helping to track down highly-endangered great crested newts in a bid to save the species.
The six-year-old English springer spaniel’s powerful nose can sniff out the semi-aquatic creatures – even when they are hiding underground, say scientists.
The great crested newt is a species of special conservation concern across the UK as well as central and northern Europe.
While much is known about their life in the water, little is known about their behaviors on land, as they are often underground and out of sight in mammal burrows or rocky crevices.
By being so hidden, it difficult to gather data about them, which is vital for conservation projects.
Great crested newts breed in ponds and spend the majority of their life either in woodland, grassland, freshwater, wetlands or farmlands.
They have black warty skin with a striking orange stomach and can be found across lowland England and Wales.
However, in recent years they have experienced a huge drop in numbers.
This is partly due to a loss of ponds across the country. The UK lost around 50 percent of ponds in the 20th Century, and 80 percent of current ponds are classed as being in “poor” condition.
Freya was sent out to find how environmental factors specific to great crested newts might affect their detectability.
She was tested to see whether she could identify the newts at a range of distances and in different types of land, including sandy or clay soil either with or without vents, which are present in mammal like burrows.
Over 16 trial runs, Freya could detect great crested newts across the entire distance range, which had a minimum of two meters away.
While she had two false positives during the first run-through, she had an 87 percent success rate overall.
She was also able to detect newts in both sandy and clay vented and unvented soils with high accuracy.
Over 128 trials, she showed an 88 percent success rate, with the 12 percent of false calls generally being false positives.
Freya was significantly faster at detecting great crested newts in vented soil versus unvented soil.
She could also detect the newts significantly faster and more accurately in unvented clay soil than sandy unvented soil.
Study author Nikki Glover believes other dogs would likely require significant training to achieve success rates as high as Freya, with accuracy also depending on the specifics of the detection site.
Glover, a research student at Salford University, said: “This pioneering research shows how detection dogs can be a valuable addition to the current toolbox used to locate threatened amphibian species, particularly those using subterranean shelters.”
Glover, a member of the National Ecology Detection Dogs Working Group, added:
“This study also highlights how soil type can have an influence on the accuracy and speed of detection.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Saba Fatima and Newsdesk Manager