I am currently conducting my PhD research at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International (FFI). My supervisors are Dr Antonio Uzal, Dr Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd, Dr Richard Yarnell & Dr Iain Trewby. My research investigates how livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) might affect surrounding wildlife and predominantly focuses on monitoring LGD behaviours and interactions with wildlife. My fieldwork is supported by FFI and carried out in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania with local shepherds and their LGDs. The main methods we employ are GPS tracking of LGDs, LGD dietary analyses, and camera trapping to monitor wildlife.
Livestock depredation, the killing of livestock by wild carnivores, is one of the most widespread issues hampering successful human-wildlife coexistence (Woodroffe, Thirgood & Rabinowitz 2005). Livestock depredation incurs costs to farmers so often leads to the lethal control of predators, resulting in stakeholder disputes between farmers and conservation biologists. As such, it is extremely important to find predator-friendly methods of preventing livestock depredation that benefit both farmers and wildlife.
One of the most successful methods documented for mitigating against livestock depredation is the use of livestock guarding dogs. The ability of these dogs to protect livestock from predators and subsequently increase farmer-tolerance towards carnivores on their farmland has led to conservation organisations promoting the use of LGDs (Rust, Whitehouse-Tedd & MacMillan 2013).
Although a recent study showed that LGDs don’t affect the utilisation of farmland by carnivores (Spencer et al. 2020), some studies have reported behavioural problems with LGDs, such as chasing, and sometimes killing, wild species (Potgieter, Kerley & Marker 2016; Whitehouse-Tedd et al. 2019). For LGDs to be considered beneficial for conservation, it is imperative they do not have unintended impacts on co-occurring wildlife. However, to date, few empirical studies have investigated what effects, if any, LGDs may have on wildlife.
My PhD research aims to address this knowledge gap by investigating how LGDs behave when guarding livestock, and how target predators (those responsible for livestock predation) and non-target wildlife respond to the presence of LGDs. I am monitoring the behaviour of LGDs, as well as how wildlife use habitat in relation to the presence of LGDs on high altitude pastures. The results will provide much needed evidence regarding the efficacy of LGDs and how to facilitate coexistence between livestock farmers and carnivores.
I spent 5 months between June-November 2021 collecting data in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania with Fauna & Flora International. We worked with local shepherds who practice transhumance grazing, meaning they graze their livestock on higher altitude pastures during the summer months. As the Carpathians are home to some of Europe’s largest populations of large carnivores, the practice of transhumance grazing moves livestock into large carnivore territory, hence encounters with, and attacks by, grey wolves and brown bears are common. To protect their livestock, shepherds use several methods including livestock guarding dogs. Often these dogs are large, mixed-breed varieties, although several pure breeds of LGDs originate from Romania. Recently, FFI have been encouraging the use of pure bred Carpathian Shepherd Dogs and have provided over 60 of these dogs to shepherds in their project area (read more here).
During fieldwork, we have been GPS tracking LGDs and sheep to see where the dogs position themselves in relation to the livestock and record instances where the dogs wander from the herd, or chase away predators. To see what LGDs are eating outside of what is provided by shepherds, we are performing dietary analyses via traditional scat analysis and stable isotope analysis. We also experimented with attaching GoPro cameras to the LGDs to quantify rates of behaviours and interactions with humans and wildlife, although this is yet to be fully developed. To monitor wildlife, we have deployed camera traps across our study area at various distances from LGD-occupied pastures to see how wildlife use habitat in relation to the presence of LGDs. Here are some fun fieldwork photos:
I am pleased to announce that the first publication of my PhD was published on 2nd December 2020! In this paper, “The ecological effects of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) on target and non-target wildlife“, we review the current literature to summarise the effects that livestock guarding dogs have on wildlife and highlight major knowledge gaps in this area of research. The full paper is available for free here: https://doi.org/10.25225/jvb.20103 and below is a visual summary of some of the key findings.