Ecological effects of using livestock guarding dogsWhat effects, if any, do livestock guarding dogs have on the co-occurring wildlife?
I am in the first year of my PhD at Nottingham Trent University supervised by Dr Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd, Dr Richard Yarnell & Dr Antonio Uzal. My research investigates how livestock guarding dogs affect surrounding wildlife. I am beyond excited by this topic and I’ll be posting updates from my fieldwork once I get started!
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 (LGDs). 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 the 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 the dogs behave when guarding livestock, and how target predators (those responsible for livestock predation) and non-target wildlife respond to the presence of LGDs. I will therefore be monitoring the behaviour of wildlife on farms with and without LGDs using a variety of methods including camera trapping and dietary analyses of LGD scats. The results will provide much needed evidence regarding the efficacy of LGDs and how to facilitate coexistence between livestock farmers and carnivores.
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.