Over the last 15 years sniffer dogs have been widely employed in nature conservation. Using dogs allows to detect cryptic or elusive species; to locate the target species in unreachable habitats (e.g. inside wood, high up in a tree); to reduce labor costs; to decrease the risk of disturbance to the target species. We trained a sniffer dog to detect larvae of Osmoderma eremita. The training and the activity in the field was developed in a number of steps: firstly, we trained the dog to locate the target species and to signal to the handler; subsequently we assessed the “accuracy” of the dog. The final step will be to employ the dog for surveying O. eremita in the field. The first step (training period: 2 years, October 2013 – October 2015), was started by training the dog in a fenced area using live larvae of O. eremita. Subsequently, the dog was trained in urban parks using small supports of nitrocellulose with the smell of the target species, which were hidden in trees suitable for O. eremita (mainly oaks and willows). We evaluated the accuracy of the dog in two ways: 1) working in "Osmoderma-free" areas and with a “double blind test” (positioning the nitrocellulose target in trees which were unknown to dog and trainer). A total of 231 trees were tested, with 30 nitrocellulose targets; 2) tests were carried out in areas where the presence of O. eremita was known. Here we confirmed the presence of larvae by means of "wood mould sampling" after the dog had signaled the trees. Further tests are scheduled for the spring of 2016, in particular a survey will be carried out on 169 trees, where the presence of larvae of O. eremita had been ascertained by wood mould sampling. The accuracy of the dog was estimated as the percentage of successes (number of targets identified/total number of targets) in relation to the percentage of failures (number of false signaling + number of targets which are not identified). These two methods of evaluation were compared. The study is part of the project MIPP (LIFE11 NAT/IT/000252), which aims to develop standard methods for the monitoring of saproxylic beetles listed in the Habitats Directive.
Mosconi, F., Audisio, P., Campanaro, A., Antonini, G., Chiari, S., Hardersen, S., et al. (2016). The use of a sniffer dog to monitor the endangered saproxylic beetle Osmoderma eremita (Scopoli, 1763).. In Abstract book - 9th edition of the symposium on the conservation of saproxylic beetles.