In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Elizabeth Hiroyasu, Hillary Young, and Grace Lewin about their Dangermond Preserve work.
Science Highlight: None this week
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Where to find Hillary: Young Lab
Where to find Elizabeth: Website
You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.
Both Barley and Niffler need high powered dog food to help them out in the field. Whenever I live somewhere with refrigeration, I love feeding them Nom Nom Now. Niffler can be slow and picky eater and he actually dances and wines when he knows nom nom now is coming out of the fridge and then licks the bowl clean. Nom Nom’s food is full of fresh proteins that your dog loves and the vitamins and nutrients they need to thrive. You can actually see proteins and vegetables like beef, chicken, pork, peas, carrots, kale, and more. When you sign up for Nom Nom Now, you share information on your dog’s age breed weight, allergies, food preferences, and importantly their activity level. Then they’ll tailor specially made blends and serving sizes to your dogs, which are delivered in a huge exciting refrigerated box. If you’re ready to make the switch to fresh, you can order Nom Nom Now today by going to zen.ai/k9conservationists1 and use the offer code k9conservationists, all one word to get 50% off your first order plus free shipping. So again, that is zen.ai/k9conservationists1 and use the offer code k9conservationists at checkout. You’ll get 50% off, and of course Nom Nom comes with a money back guarantee. If your dog’s tail isn’t wagging within 30 days, Nom Nom will refund your first order. No fillers, no nonsense just Nom Nom.
Kayla Fratt 01:46
Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we are positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss detection training, canine welfare, conservation biology and everything that connects those. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today, we have I think, three of the four of those represented here. So we’ve got some land managers, research agencies, and well, researchers, and an NGO all at the table talking about the work that we did, in summer of 2023, in the Dangermond Preserve helping out some researchers from UC Santa Barbara, with their project. So we’ve got Hillary, Grace, and Elizabeth here.
Kayla Fratt 02:32
Why don’t we start out with some introductions. So Hillary, tell us a little bit about yourself; if you have any dogs that you want to tell us about, and your research goals, and then we’ll same question with Elizabeth and then Grace.
Hillary Young 02:44
Yeah. My name is Hillary Young. I’m a professor at UC Santa Barbara in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine biology. I work on conservation biology and community ecology and kind of the interface of those two fields. I have one dog, Electron, she’s a border collie. She would love to be a canine conservation dog, but I think she may have aged out unfortunately. And yeah, I’m really excited to be working with Elizabeth and Kayla and Grace on this project at Dangermond.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 03:14
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Hiroyasu. I am the preserve scientist at the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve out of Point Conception. I work for the Nature Conservancy and I am an ecologist and general environmental scientist. I have one dog, Momo, who’s a mutt and definitely not qualified to be a conservation dogs. She is the laziest dog in the world. Not all motivated at all.
Kayla Fratt 03:14
And how about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 03:26
We still love her. And Grace.
Grace Lewin 03:55
Hi, I’m Grace Lewin. I’m a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara in Hillary Young’s lab. And I am really interested in questions studying conservation and these large wildlife. And so I’m super excited to be working out at the Dangerman preserve as well. Looking at these questions in the system.
Kayla Fratt 04:19
Do you have a dog? I don’t think you do.
Grace Lewin 04:21
And I do have a little dog! Her name is Lily. And she is also not fit for a conservation dog. She would rather sleep on the couch all day.
Kayla Fratt 04:31
Yeah, well, that’s, that’s probably nicer as a PhD student. All right, so we don’t have any new reviews. And I also I’m in the middle of a move so I don’t have a silent science highlight prepared for us. So we’re just going to jump straight into the interview. So Hillary, why don’t we start out with you telling us a little bit about what you and your lab are focused on kind of as those big picture questions and how that led you to doing work on the Dangermond.
Hillary Young 05:00
Yeah, absolutely. So our lab, as I said, kind of sits at the nexus of conservation, ecology and community ecology. And in particular, I’m really interested in thinking about what kind of changes in wildlife communities, usually the loss of wildlife, but sometimes introduction of wildlife, what that means to how whole ecosystems function. So, basically, you know, we’re losing and gaining species all the time in ecosystems around the world. And more often than not, that doesn’t cause the whole system to collapse and fall apart, the system keeps on ticking and functioning. But there are a loss of certain species or types of species that cause major changes in ecosystem function.
Hillary Young 05:43
So I’m really interested in identifying what types of species loss causes loss of ecosystem function. And one function that we’re particularly interested in is connectivity. So the idea that ecosystems that are kind of traditionally seen as discrete entities like land and ocean, or rivers and stream beds, those systems are actually intricately connected, often, kind of the connections are so so strong and so deep, that if you, if you break those connections, both ecosystems stop performing the functions, and the whole community starts to fall apart.
Hillary Young 06:23
So I’m really interested in understanding when wildlife loss causes conductivity to be lost, and kind of causes these cascading effects in reciprocal in both these donor and recipient systems of these subsidies. So I’ve been working on those questions for almost two decades now, starting out in islands in the Pacific, working in high mountain lakes, and most recently been thinking about conductivity on California’s coastline. So basically, we have one of the most wild and protected coastlines in the world in parts of California, and they abut some of the most developed and disturbed coastlines in the world. So what do we lose when we kind of start developing these coastlines? And we no longer allow these natural connections between ecosystems? What does that what does that mean to these systems? Does it really matter? Or are they pretty much okay without having this high level of connectivity?
Hillary Young 07:23
So with those questions in mind, I was lucky enough to get connected to Dangermond Preserve, which Elizabeth can tell us a lot more about in a moment. But it’s a great system, because it is a relatively wild coastline. And we can we still have, you know, as intact a fontal community, as exists in California, and a wild coat and a wild marine system, too. So we have a wild terrestrial wild marine system next to each other, we can ask kind of what are those natural connections? And then nearby Dangerman are systems that are actually quite disturbed and developed? And so we can start thinking about comparative questions to about what happens with different levels of human disturbance to those connections.
Kayla Fratt 08:05
Yeah, excellent. So you said one thing that I want to just chase down a little bit, because this is not something I’m super familiar with, before we move on to more about Dangermond. So you said there are cases in which the wildlife loss can lead to connectivity loss? Can you give us an example of that, like, I’ve always thought of it, like connectivity causing problems or lack of connectivity causing problems for the wildlife, not the other way around?
Hillary Young 08:26
Yeah, I mean, there’s several examples of this, one of which is something I did my PhD on years ago. I worked on seabirds out on islands. And basically, when the Seabirds were lost, either who introduced rats eating their nests, or introduced plants, removing the habitat where the seabirds nest, when the Seabirds were lost, they stop bringing nutrients from sea to land through poop through bird guano. And the islands are no longer fertilized anymore. And so that causes changes in what plants can live there, what insects can live there, it also causes changes in the quality of the water. And so it’s causing changes back into the nearshore environment.
Hillary Young 09:10
So for example, we found that when the Seabirds were lost in the system, we lost we had reductions in plant diversity, reductions in insect diversity, reductions in whole system food chain length and food chain stability. And then we also see changes in the phytoplankton growing near the islands without seabirds and changes in the manta rays foraging on the plankton near islands with or without seabirds. So you’ve got this kind of whole cyclical loop in which kind of the offshore was supporting the terrestrial which was supporting the inshore. And the breakage of this is one link of the seabirds caused the kind of this whole system cascade and kind of collapse. Wow. And there’s lots of examples like this. This is the one I happen to work on. But there’s numerous of these, there’s hippos in Africa, there’s trout in the Pacific Northwest, or salmon in Pacific Northwest.
Hillary Young 10:07
I think the wolves in Yellowstone one has been contentious about what exactly is going on there.
Kayla Fratt 10:07
Yeah, yeah. And I guess now that now that I see, you know, that I think I understand it’s like, oh, yeah, it gets, I could see beavers being something like that, you know, there’s that classic wolves in Yellowstone talking about it that I feel like, recently someone posting on Twitter about that being a little bit overblown, or some of the data being –
Kayla Fratt 10:32
But it’s a nice story that exemplifies this sort of thing.
Hillary Young 10:38
Exactly. This idea of, of connections across systems, right, that changes in one system, to an animal community can cause kind of cascading effects across systems. And there’s certain groups that we now like, absolutely recognize, do this. seabirds are the classic one. But you know, I’m working on lamb crabs and saying, you know, lamb cubs really important. And you know, one of the things we’re asking California are big predators important in this system. As connectors, we don’t often think of it, although there’s growing awareness that sometimes these big predators do use coastal habitats. But so kind of maybe a new group of species that we really need to be thinking about, and maybe a slightly different pathway by which those connections are important.
Kayla Fratt 11:23
Very cool. So okay, so now we’ve got a little bit of a primer on why you are excited to work in Dangermond. Elizabeth, can you tell us a little bit about the Dangermond Preserve? Because this is a really special, interesting place.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 11:38
Sure, yeah. The Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve, which we often refer to as the Preserve, or the Dangermond Preserve, it’s, it’s one of the most special places in California, and a place that conservationists have had their eye on for a really long time, the preserve itself is over 24,000 acres. And it’s the entire area surrounding Point Conception, which is what we refer to as kind of the elbow of California, where the coastline shifts from going east, west to going north, south or north, south, to East West, depending on what direction you’re traveling up the coast. And so it’s at the top of the California bite.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 12:21
And what’s really exciting and unique about it is it is an area where things meet, and so in the ocean is where the Northern and Southern California currents meet. And so it’s an area of extraordinary mixing in the ocean, but it’s also where the Northern and Southern California ecotones meet. So we also see that reflected on land as well. And so that mixing has really important implications for what you see, it makes it an area of really high biodiversity. So we see a lot of different Northern and Southern California species in the same place where you wouldn’t necessarily see them together.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 13:00
And it can be a really important biogeographic boundary, especially in the ocean. And so that has a lot of implications as we think about species resilience and persistence under climate change. What might get stuck at these areas of mixing? Or where do we have these novel assemblages? For conservation, it’s also a really special place because we share a border with the point conception state marine reserve, which is reserved in the ocean with the highest level of protection. So there’s no take. And it’s been demonstrated that these reserves these areas of protection have higher by higher biodiversity, and higher kind of species composition, that and species kind of assemblages that are a bit more intact, and that is shown even all the way out to the edges of these systems. So having this kind of dual land/sea protection is really exciting opportunity and a really exciting opportunity to answer questions like those that Hilary have posed to understand the connectivity between these systems.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 14:13
Kind of the Preserve by the numbers, I guess we could say, we have about eight miles of coastline. And when you combine that with the protected coastline, the Vandenberg Space Force Base and the relatively less trafficked coastline of Hollister Ranch, that’s about a 21 mile transect of coastline with much less human influence than some of the classic maybe Southern California beaches that we think of. We have about 50 miles of streams and the Dangermond Preserve encompasses over 90% of the Halawa watershed. So to have a single watershed in single ownership is a really exciting both research and conservation opportunity because as it means there’s a lot of opportunities for restoration and to understand the full effects across the entire watershed from the headwaters to where it meets the oceans. We have about 6000 acres of coast Live Oak, woodland and forest, which is an area that is particularly exciting to me. And over 200 wildlife species that have been documented on the preserve. And that’s something that we’re constantly adding to I get emails from folks are like, Oh, I just saw this species on the Preserve, can you check and see if it’s on your list, and oftentimes, it’s not.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 15:37
So it’s, it’s a really exciting place. It’s a really, I think it has the expression of some of the most important California ecosystem types across it. It also has really important expression of what I call every era of California history. So it’s on the traditional unseeded territories of the Chumash peoples and is a really important area, an area of cultural significance. And so, you know, is an area that has been stewarded by the Chumash since time immemorial. And from that point forward, expresses every kind of era of California history, including the colonization era, the ranching era, California history, the World War Two era with a lot of military history of the region and into the present.
Kayla Fratt 16:34
Wow, yeah, that’s really, I actually didn’t know some parts of that, which is exciting after we’ve been through so many interviews together. So you said something that kind of surprised me. So you’re still running into new species on this Preserve? Is that because there are just so many, or is it because this Preserve is a little bit newer to really being focused on as a conservation area?
I think it’s both. I think that, you know, The Nature Conservancy acquired the Preserve in 2017. And so we’re coming up on five years of ownership here in December. And so we’re still getting to know the place; I’ve worked at the Preserve for two years now. And I am still learning roads, I’m still learning where my favorite trees are my favorite rocks are still learning and seeing new species all the time. And I’m out there quite a bit. And I think, you know, we’re kind of, I think, in the nascent stages of doing those kind of full surveys to understanding what’s there. I think, also, it being a place of incredible mixing and knowing that we’re seeing the effects of climate change, knowing we’re seeing species moving already. It also means that there are new arrivals and perhaps new departures. And so we’re still trying to get that baseline understanding of what’s here now, and what’s actually changing. What is a reflection of the climate changing? What is What are new patterns that maybe haven’t been documented, but are, have been happening? And all of kind of those pieces, really, I think, were early days and knowing what’s what out there.
Yeah, that’s really neat. So, Grace, I know you’re still very early in your PhD journey. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on? And how you got connected with this project? And yeah, what you’re what you’re really looking for here and why, why these two things are coming together for you.
Grace Lewin 18:51
Um, yeah, so I am really interested in kind of exactly what you know Hillary’s talking about, about the conductivity and these conservation questions related to those connectivity issues. And then combine that with what Elizabeth has just said about how important special this place is along the coast. I think those are two reasons why I’m working on questions similar to this has been really exciting to me.
Grace Lewin 19:25
So what I’m currently working on in this is really asking questions of what so we’ve seen from camera images and from firsthand accounts, we’ve seen these large mammals on the coasts on the beaches, on the sand departs of beaches along the along these coasts. And so that was super exciting to me. And I think one question that follows from where You know, if we see them, what are they doing? And are they eating things there? And do if they’re eating, then how is that connectivity being facilitated? And are is any nutrients being brought up from those coasts to inland areas? So since these large mammals have such large home ranges compared to other smaller, smaller animals that might be around those that impact could be, could be really important.
Yeah. So what are some of the species that you’re particularly interested in? For people who maybe aren’t as familiar with kind of central California coast? What do we even have around here?
Grace Lewin 20:49
Yeah, so this system has a lot of really interesting wildlife. There are coyotes, there’s bobcats, there’s mountain lions, there’s definitely lots of deer around. There are the wild hogs. And there are potentially some bears around as well. And so we are, we’re really interested in kind of seeing who is on this beach, and what might they be eating around and if there is a marine influence to their diets. So the project that I’m working on currently is really focusing on this diet analysis for the species in this coastal environment.
Kayla Fratt 21:39
Gotcha. So yeah, and we’re gonna get into some of the methods that you and Hillary have been using so far to that end. But um, so we’ve talked about all the terrestrial species, are we thinking that they’re eating fish? Or are there a particular marine mammals that might be involved as well? And I kind of know the answer to these questions, but I’m speaking for the listener right now.
Grace Lewin 22:00
I think the I mean, my answer might be we don’t quite know yet. But I would say if we had to guess we would say, perhaps they’re eating some. Maybe they’re eating some marine mammals that are washing up. And perhaps there’s some scavenging there. I think we’ve seen some evidence of that. On cameras, and just looking at things you’ve seen on beaches. Maybe they’re eating some invertebrates. Who knows? We will find out.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 22:39
Kayla, if you think you know the answer, like you know more than we do!
Hillary Young 22:43
I will jump in and say that we have seen – so this in addition to the scat project, which I know we’re going to talk about today. We’ve been having cameras up at Dangermond for more than a year. And you know, just yesterday, these guys were out there expanding that camera trapper, right. And so we do have some knowledge from the camera traps. We see them with cormorants or pelicans in their mouth, and we also see them with gumboot chitons, and some invertebrates in there. And they look like they’re actively foraging in the intertidal.
Hillary Young 23:20
We got a camera trap result just from the other from a ranch next door to Dangermond a month ago, showing the coyotes foraging on a piglet. So maybe they’re coming down and eating animals that are coming down and eating in the tidal. So we’re hitting like multiple levels of things happening. Certainly I wouldn’t be surprised we see a lot. So rats and mice coming up on the beach. And so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re four if these animals are also coming down to forage on animals that are foraging them title. So I think the answer is correct that we don’t know. But we do know, we don’t know what’s most common. But we do know that there’s a lot of different things that they’re predating on in this kind of coastal environment.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 24:02
And I can say, you know, Grace and Hillary’s project represents just one of over 80 research projects across the Dangermond Preserve. So we do support a huge amount of research happening on on the preserve and other research projects that we’ve done on small mammals have already demonstrated, at least in the preliminary results that we do see signatures of marine foraging in the small mammal population.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 24:32
I’ll also say anecdotally, having spent a lot of time just walking around the preserve. And a lot of times sifting through scat that we find on the Preserve, you know, we were up at the north end of the Preserve, which is at least six miles from the nearest coastline, maybe more. And we found a scat just the other day and we were digging through it and there’s definitely evidence of what look like maybe digested chiton or some kind of marine shells in the scat. And, you know, that means that that animal had to eat that travel many miles, many canyons for and within about six hours and then deposit that scat pretty far away.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 25:16
And so we, we know anecdotally that there’s a lot of things moving around the preserve. And so we’d like to put some numbers to that and really understand what that means for the system. And I think for conservation and land management, really thinking about what that means for what we do both on the preserve what folks who live in these coastal systems can do to better support the whole ecosystem, and how different land management how different use of beach ecosystems, coastal ecosystems can really influenced what we see across the rest of close by or adjacent ecosystems.
Kayla Fratt 26:02
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And I think yeah, my original question was maybe poorly worded because I was just trying to get us to say, do we have sea lions or sea otters on this, on this coastline, or just getting us to name a couple of those other species that may or may not be part of this picture right now.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 26:18
And I have found sea otter carcasses up on the coastal prairie. So we know things are pulling sea otters on the ladder.
Kayla Fratt 26:28
Yeah, which I know when I saw your original intake, Grace, kind of coming through to work with us, that was the first thing that I got excited about, because my lab mate here at OSU, who is now my roommate, has been doing a lot of work with the coastal wolves up in southern Alaska. And they’re doing quite a bit of prediction on the sea otters. So it was really cool to see another project coming through where we’re looking at this, like terrestrial marine interface. Like, “Oh, my God, is everyone eating sea otters?” I just don’t know.
Hillary Young 26:56
But I mean, to answer your question, I mean, there are seals, sea lions, elephant seals, otters, and I’m trying to think of when we get a bunch of dolphins washing up on the coast, and clearly getting scavenged by large animals on the coast. So I think lots of marine mammals are getting scavenged. Whether or not there’s actual predation happening of marine mammals, I don’t know, unless it’s like the sick and dying animals of domoic acid, I’d be a little surprised, but maybe not.
Kayla Fratt 27:27
Yeah, yeah. No, that would be you know, I know, this was one of the things we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But this is one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about, as we were out doing the service. It’s like, gosh, you know, if this is just something that doesn’t happen really frequently, you know, what do we have to do in order to really confirm or support its presence or absence? Or the presence or absence of these interactions and behaviors? Because again, if we’re not assuming it’s something that happens every day? How exactly do you guys set up your surveys and your various survey methods to, you know, feel like you’ve got enough evidence to actually say anything about what’s happening? So maybe we should start out with Hillary and grace. telling us a little bit about your survey method. So far. I know we’ve got camera traps going on. What else are what else are we doing? And how, how did dogs end up becoming part of this picture?
Hillary Young 28:19
I can back out the camera trap piece,, and then Grace, I’ll turn over dogs, scat and dogs to you. Which is for the last year, we’ve had an amazing another PhD student, Zoe Zilz, leading a project in kind of the Gaviota Coast area looking at wildlife use of coastlines using cameras. And so she’s had an array of cameras set up across various areas of the Gaviota coastline, in coastal ecosystems, basically, trying to understand who’s using the beach, when are they using the beach? And how are they using the beach.
Hillary Young 28:59
So, you know, we assume that there’s a really strong seasonal signal in beach use. Both because the things that washed ashore or that are in the marine system change throughout the year. So you have the marine seasonality of you know, domoic acid poisoning is perhaps more common in certain months, you have big king tide events in different months. So they’re real seasonal pulses of different types of nutrients that we would think might draw different types of animals down.
Hillary Young 29:32
And then you also have seasonality, of course, in the terrestrial system. So the terrestrial system is a pretty hard place to live in California come fall when nothing has been growing for months, and it’s dry, and you know, some of the animal populations have crashed, so there’s not as much prior available. So there can be different draws to the coastal system across here. So we’ve been looking at that combination of who uses it when and why with camera traps, but this light, you can’t get out with camera traps, who can’t answer the question of what are they doing down there, you might get some anecdotal evidence of you know, a gumboot chiton, and the coyotes mouth or something.
Hillary Young 30:11
But, you know, is that important to them? Is it common, we can get that well with camera tops. So that’s part of where scat surveys comes in. And we’ve also been doing or piloting in Greece can talk about this to some hair sampling that might ultimately complement that. But I think that the meat of what we’re doing in this next part is about poop. And so great, I will pass that off to you.
Grace Lewin 30:36
Great, perfect. Yeah, so all of that really important information through those, that camera project. And that’s still ongoing is so important to this. And so we decided to start scat surveys along the coastline for just to really see, what we find this summer is, was really just like the first exploratory phase of this project. And so we have been really interested to see what we find out there.
Grace Lewin 31:21
So in terms of, of methods, it’s really walking trails that we think animals might walk and walking beaches that we think they might walk, a lot of that is influenced by where we see them on the cameras, by where we see tracks of the animals that we’re interested in. And of course, where we see other scat from those animals that we’re interested in. And some of those places been places that we found things has been surprising to us. And sometimes it’s been, wow, I didn’t expect there to be this many Bobcats on this trail. And yeah, but the methods, I mean, the methods are very simple. That we’ve we go and we see where we can find this guy, and we pick it up, and we get the data that we need to get about when and where and how fresh was it? And what species do anything it is. And then we’ve taken that back to the lab and are now in the process of going towards DNA extraction and then doing some DNA to see what’s actually being eaten.
Kayla Fratt 32:38
Yeah, cool. So yeah, per usual, you know, the poop is just the the first step. And then we’ve got to, we’ve got to do all sorts of analysis to actually figure out what that poop can tell us. Because, you know, as you said, sometimes it might be a little obvious like, Elizabeth, that was a great example of, okay, so scat sample that’s six miles in that has visible evidence of something that looks like it was from kind of an intertidal zone. Okay, that’s great. But, you know, if we’re looking for more evidence, or kind of specific species in some, that’s where we start needing the lab to be involved as well. So yeah, how was that working with humans searchers? And what did what did you notice kind of bringing the dogs to the table do that? I hope it helps, you know, I was there, but.
Grace Lewin 33:24
It really helped. Yeah, and you know, working with the dogs, the idea of working with the dogs was really exciting to us, because we can see the poop and we can go where we think they might have gone but there’s dogs can really, you know, smell and have a better idea of where you know, where where it might be and where these animals really might have been.
Grace Lewin 33:50
And so to answer that question, I think that’s why we were super excited to work with you. And the dogs and so yeah, the experience of actually working with the dogs was was awesome. I think we definitely saw them find scat that we wouldn’t have found ourselves and especially when we were on beaches, I had not thought that we would find much on the actual beach just because number one the tide washes in and out so quickly. That you you know, you don’t really have much of a window to find things and to just I thought, well maybe these animals are cruising through and why would they stop the poops?
Grace Lewin 34:32
Once we got like Barley and Scotty out on the beach and they started really finding things I was like okay, we are serving this beach every single time we come out now we’re not just going on the inland trails are right along the bluffs. And so that was one thing that I thought was super awesome and it changed my, changed my survey methods really.
Hillary Young 34:56
I’ll also jump in with a slightly contradictory, but complementary thought, too, I think, which is Barley and Scotty were able to find, like ridiculously tiny and destroyed particles. I was super impressed. But it also in some ways convinced me that I can find the good, the easy stuff for some things, right? Like I realized that what I need them for is finding like the rare species that I can’t find, right, like the occasional Puma or bear or something. Because when there’s, you know, they absolutely found all kinds of poop I would never ever in a million years would have found on the beach, but a lot of it was like, well, we can’t, we can’t use it the or we won’t use it because it’s so degraded compared to fresh stuff.
Hillary Young 35:47
And so it was actually very heartening to me to be like, okay, there isn’t a whole world of poop that I’m not seeing there just fine. I mean, there is a whole world of poop. I’m not saying but there’s not a whole world of poop that I can use, that I’m not seeing. And so that was really, actually in some ways, heartening to me to be like, Okay, I can visually walk the beach myself, find the poop and get it for these common species. And what I really need the dogs for is, you know, to go out and find not lion or bear, or that random poop in the middle of nowhere that I’m never gonna find because my god, they can find small poop fragments.
Kayla Fratt 36:26
Yeah, yeah. There was definitely a couple where I was so proud of the dogs for finding them there was I we’re probably all thinking of the same one that was like the size of a thumbnail that barley spent, like five minutes going in circles in this, you know, and I thought that it was the wind was kind of editing and circling in this area. And I thought it was up the canyon. So I kept trying to send barley off this canyon. And then we actually found it on the way back because we left and came back. And it was all the way out in this intertidal zone. And it was just so tidy and so beat up and it was, you know, so proud of him. But also, yeah, the chances of that actually telling us anything, once we tried to extract that DNA was really low. So impressive, but not helpful.
Hillary Young 37:08
Yeah, but I mean, really helpful for the knowledge, right? Like, if he’s finding that then there are like, tons of hoops I’m missing, right? So it was actually like really informative. Like he found, like you said, a thumbnail size piece like under a giant heaping pile of seaweed that had probably been in the sea for a week or something. I don’t know what but Right. Like how we knew that was I have no friggin clue. But it did convince me that if he was finding out there wasn’t a whole world of poop on that beach that we weren’t seeing.
Kayla Fratt 37:37
Definitely once you know, that first day, this always happens to me when I’m out in the field on a new project is that first day until we found that first scat was like, oh, gosh, is this working? Like, are they? Are they missing stuff? And then as soon as Scotty started finding stuff on that first survey, it was like, Okay, now I feel good saying that that first two miles, there was actually just nothing for him to find, because so I think the dogs, you know, they can be really helpful in kind of confirming absence, where you’re not sure if you’re not seeing it, or if it’s genuinely not there. And you know, we can’t guarantee that there was literally nothing that the dogs missed, they probably did. But if it does confirm that –
Hillary Young 38:16
I have to tell you that from my perspective, it was at least like at least half of the value was in confirming absence, right was in knowing where they weren’t right. Like we I went up to that one bluff area where there were all these dead cormorant carcasses in the ice plant. And I thought the place was going to be just littered with poop and I wasn’t seeing it. And to have the dogs go by and you know, not see it was, in many ways, really comforting. I’m like, Okay, I don’t have to search that area, exhaustively every time we surveyed. So it was super helpful for not finding things in some places and for finding them and others.
Kayla Fratt 38:48
Yeah, I think this project was also an interesting one for me, as far as you know, really thinks we had three really different types of vegetation cover that we were working through. So we had that sand area that had clumps of seaweed, and those were really tricky and interesting for the dogs to work through on like an olfactory level. Then we had that ice plant, which is kind of like a, it’s like a ground cover succulent, that’s probably what, eight inches tall? And can be really, really thick. Maybe a little taller than as well.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 39:16
Yeah, it’s a non native and quite invasive. Yeah, succulent from South Africa. And it grows in kind of a low ground pepper but it leaves a thatch so it dies and it grows on top of it. So you get these deep layers of thatch that are yeah, probably six to eight inches deep with lots of little crevices for poop or snakes or small rodents to, to hide in. And it was really interesting to see that, you know, a lot of the scat that we see on the roads is the scat that’s there and it’s not really hidden down in that thatch layer.
Kayla Fratt 39:53
Yeah, yeah, I was surprised by that. And that was a funny one as well because both of the dogs we had on this project are trained to find dead birds as well. So, we’re having a little bit of back and forth discussions with the dogs of okay, yes, there are dozens of dead sea birds here. But we’re, we’re, you’re gonna get a piece of kibble for those ones. And then if you find any scat, then we’re gonna throw the party because, you know, we were just getting stopped by dead sea birds constantly. And then you know that third ecosystem was more of that oak woodland and what we saw there was that first survey, what were you were calling that Bobcat lane, Bobcat alley? What do you call that.
Grace Lewin 40:29
You know, we took Barley out of the car and walked, what, a quarter mile and found like 30 scats. And we actually had to go talk to a reporter from NPR, then so we were cutting it off anyway. But then when we went back to that site, you know, we chose to pull Scotty out, because Scotty was not trained on Coyote. So we were hoping that we’d be able to move a little bit quicker. And what I really enjoyed on that particular one was, yeah, you know, we were seeing tons and tons of samples, so we didn’t really need the dogs, for parts of that survey, at least because it was it was just so covered in poop. You could do it yourself. But I don’t know Grace, if this was as useful for you as I felt like it was. But having Scotty there to say, Coyote, Coyote, Coyote, Coyote, bobcat! You know, and telling us which ones were of which species was really helpful, and really cool to see him able to make that discrimination because those samples look so similar.
Grace Lewin 41:29
Yeah, I think that was really cool. And again, I think it really was helpful for confirmation to both in that, honestly, helping us figure out how to identify the two because they are very tricky to identify. But also, to know that I think, you know, working with Scotty throughout the couple of days, we had seen him not alert to some things and then alert to other things. And so I think that was really cool to see him do it in real time with them right next to each other. And so we were like, Oh, well, all the stuff he passed up that we may have seen with our eyes. That was probably coyote that probably wasn’t bobcat. And so seeing him really only alert to the bobcat was was really interesting to just see that. Right, right there, so clearly.
Kayla Fratt 42:23
Yeah, it’ll be interesting to get the DNA back. And hopefully it shows that he was actually doing species. And otherwise, it’s gonna be fascinating to see what the correlation is, if it’s not if it’s not species, but I think we’re, we’re feeling pretty good about it.
Kayla Fratt 42:36
And you know, Gracie and I had a discussion, and I was like, I really want to keep him off of coyote. So what we’re going to do is, especially because this is such a target rich environment, if between mostly you and then a little bit of me backing you up, we don’t feel like 70, 80% sure that this is bobcat. If it’s kind of visually ambiguous or degraded, we’re gonna go ahead and not reward him for it anyway, just because we want it, we really wanted to make sure that we could maintain that utility for him.
Kayla Fratt 43:03
And I think we’ve already talked as well in the future, you know, as Hillary alluded to, I think if we end up coming back to help y’all out with more surveys, we’re going to try to have a dog available that is just on Puma and maybe black bear as well. So we’ve also got a dog that could come out and work in some of those really, really dense environments. But really just find those, those species that are a lot less frequent and a lot lower density because even I mean even with Scotty just finding Bobcat on Bobcat trail. I mean, it’s got that name for a reason we were I don’t I don’t know how many pin flags we put down, a lot.
Kayla Fratt 43:42
K9Conservationists is thrilled to offer a self study on class for those interested in joining the field of conservation dog professionals. This course includes 18 modules of video lecture assigned reading homework and quizzes. We have lectures from 10 amazing guest instructors, including Fostering Motivation and Joy through Hide Placement Training with Laura Holder of Conservation Dogs Collective; Safety Training and Assessments of Dog Teams with guests Fiona Jackson and Tracy Litton of Skylos Ecology; Special Considerations for Insect and Plant Training Samples with Arden Blumenthal of the New York New Jersey Trail Conference; and Building Networks, Acquiring Clients with Paul Bunker. Our alumni group is active and supportive, and we welcome students of all levels and backgrounds. The course is priced at $750 with generous financial aid and discounts available for Patreon members learn more and sign up at K9conservationist.org/class.
Grace Lewin 44:32
Yeah, that’s really so cool, because it’s got I mean, we’re talking about this how much Bobcat scat and it’s Bobcat trail, but what that visually looks like is like just look multiple the trains and so these Bobcats they they use what we call a trains where there’s lots of scat in one spot and so when you walk these trails you just see just so much scat in one place where they’re going to the same split place each time and we’ve put some cameras out out there. And I’ve just seen the traffic of bobcats walking on that trail. And it’s crazy.
Kayla Fratt 45:13
And I don’t know whether you’re able to say this, but have you seen anything else cool on those camera traps so far?
Grace Lewin 45:18
Yeah, we’ve seen, we’ve actually got one picture of a mountain lion on that on that trail. And so we didn’t find the scan of it. But we did see a picture of it. So if those cameras were it, as Hillary mentioned earlier, it can circle back we’re also kind of trialing some hair snaring, which is where we’re trying to grab hair off of animals in different ways. And so these hair snares have different kinds of methods of brushes and carpet pads, and these like artificial turf pads that kind of we think kind of can catch hair. And so it was this mountain line was kind of sniffing, sniffing one of those. Super cool, so those trails are being definitely used.
Kayla Fratt 46:07
Yeah, we’ve got to get Niffler out there and just just do a big Puma only a survey and see if we can find anything. I mean, with those big predators, you would expect them to be pooping on the trail if they’re pooping in that area. But, you know, it’d be really interesting to see if we can get out there with a with a puma only dog and find anything that we we may have missed or just be able to cover a lot more ground a lot more quickly. Because even though we weren’t necessarily collecting, honestly, the majority of the Scott that we were finding, we still were having to slow down and you know, check to see if we wanted to reward the dog and then reward the dog. And then we are still taking coordinates on a fair number of them, even if we weren’t actually collecting. So it’d be nice to have a dog that could move us through a lot more quickly.
Hillary Young 46:52
I will say that, you know, again, highlighting both the importance of like, I think it was great to have done this round. But the dogs that did find more of everything, partly to you know, we’re equally interested in those meso-carnivores as we are the big ones, right, like so there’s kind of different layers of questions about these different species. So it’s just as important to know where these meso-carnivores were and weren’t as, where the Pumas and bears were and weren’t from, from the perspective of like, those big questions that I was starting out with at the beginning, like how important is connectivity? It, you know, those, it’s obviously like this mega predators as big species or, you know, possibly keystone species in this system where they’re having outsized, you know, effects on the ecosystem.
Hillary Young 47:36
And so, you know, a little effect to them of coastal systems might mean a whole lot, the big system, but equally likely, they’re rare, right, and they may not drive the whole system. And so if we’re actually thinking about, like, the energetic connections of what’s important, it’s maybe the coyotes and the bobcat, so super common, you know, mountains of poop, that are being deposited inland, or, you know, the things that are moving the curtains and soften them. So I guess, which is to say, it was equally important to us to know where those musical carnivores were, and weren’t as to know, kind of, as to find those big predators. So in the future, we might need the dogs more for finding the big predators, because now we have the word work answers already from one unit of use of the dogs.
Kayla Fratt 48:21
Yeah, well, I can imagine for you all as well, you know, as we were alluding to, with genetic sampling, and, you know, it’s not guaranteed that if we find one poop, that’s going to necessarily have enough data, you know, if that poop did contain sea lion, okay, that doesn’t necessarily tell us how often they’re eating sea lion. And it also doesn’t answer whether it was scavenging or predation. Probably scavenging, we would think, but you know, we just don’t know. So you you need I assume some kind of number of samples in order to be able to say this proportion have and this proportion, have not influenced from those marine ecosystems. So you know, that’s, again, where it was probably nice to have all of these musical carnivores to actually hopefully be able to answer some of these like proportionality questions. Exactly. Well, I guess I’d love to kind of round out with just any other discussions or, you know, stories, anything that you guys saw as highlights, or other kind of lessons learned from being in the field with the dogs. I’ve already hammered a little bit about some of my favorites.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 49:29
I loved their accessories. were a big hit, especially with our team at TNC. When I sent some photos around of the work that we did, it was really exciting. It was one of the things that we’re really excited about is you know, using some non invasive sampling techniques, so the scat detection, both by humans and by dogs is a way to really get some great snapshots into what’s happening now and it gives us kind of a good baseline for understanding what’s what’s going on with the system.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 50:06
And the questions that Hillary in her lab are trying to answer are going to be really important and foundational as we think about, you know, large scale restoration projects across the Preserve, as we think about how we build out our programming. And even as we think about how, how we go about maybe allowing researchers on our coastlines in order to really protect those systems and make sure that we’re not impacting wildlife, that we’re not impacting this, you know, connectivity across the the system and make sure that we’re helping to really conserve the species. So really understanding how the that connectivity is related to land management, how it’s related to use, how it’s related to seasonality and things like that is really going to be foundational for us as we build out a larger research enterprise around this work.
Hillary Young 51:08
Yeah, just add on that I I’m with you, as with I’m really curious to learn about kind of great deviations in human use and the effects of connectivity. I mean, I think we know, certainly the far end, right, the parking lot, that kind of end of development has very little connectivity left, but where does that connectivity fall off? And kind of how pristine these coastlines need to be? And, you know, I think that that’s questions that, you know, these dogs are helping answer by saying, do you still need bear and mountain lion in this system to maintain that conductivity or, you know, our animals like coyotes that are relatively robust to human disturbance and perturbation, still maintaining that conductivity. And also like how much use kind of from the camera trapping type work, how much use causes the kind of drop off of different species? So I think those kind of these datasets are going to talk together really well to answer some of these questions.
Grace Lewin 52:02
I’ll just say that I think I think just having the dogs and these questions, and having the dogs be a method of use to kind of answer these questions is a, an additional method when we talk about, you know, science methods, and just having having scat detection dogs as a method in our toolbox, whether it’s the only one or you know, in conjunction with all these to answer these questions about connectivity, connectivity, and wildlife and all this is just super exciting. And I think it’s, it’s really a benefit to have kind of all these tools at our, you know, at our fingertips and kind of be open and experimental with, with different ways to find this information. And we can really find some cool things with that.
Kayla Fratt 52:51
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s one of the things we often end up emphasizing to our clients. And, you know, when we’re giving talks to biologists, as well as like, the dogs are not coming to take your job. They are, they’re definitely part of the team. And you know, as we’ve talked about, the camera traps helped tell us where we might be most interested in going out and doing the surveys with the dogs, the human surveys told us where we might want to go out and look with the dogs. And there’s always humans attached to the dogs as well to decide, you know, are we seeing something that the dog missed, because that also happens, you know, all the time, where for some reason a scat is available to us visually, but, you know, based on when or thermals or dryness or something, the dog doesn’t notice it.
Kayla Fratt 53:36
So there’s always, you know, we’re always part of the team. And then also, you know, deciding which of the samples we need to collect and everything like that. So, I think this was a really lovely example of how dogs need to be, and can be part of a team and part of a really diverse and interesting strategy to to answer some of these questions. They’re not they’re not the silver bullet for sure. But they can be definitely part of a bigger, bigger research effort. So yeah, anything that you guys wanted to circle back to or expand on before we round things out?
Hillary Young 54:10
No, I appreciate you coming out. Kayla, I learned so much from having you and the dogs out there. So I was really grateful.
Kayla Fratt 54:18
Yeah, we’re we’re we’re always really grateful to get to be out, and Elizabeth, thank you so much for helping coordinate with with the Dangermond Preserve. I mean, it’s such a cool, special place and we really enjoyed being out there and yeah, hopefully we get to come back out with you guys. Or you know, I should also say we were also out there working with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant’s team and you know, we’re just focusing on this research for now. We’ve hinted on the podcast before that we did work with Dr. Wynn-Grant, but there’s gonna be other media coming out about that so we can’t say anymore.
Kayla Fratt 54:51
But yeah, we really appreciated getting to be out there and we got to learn a lot and have a lot of interesting learning again with you know, all of the different vegetation types we were running into and seeing the variability and kind of dog success rate I didn’t even mention like we had sagebrush that we were working through as well. And one of the areas that was, I think, kind of our lowest find area, hard to say whether that was because of the sagebrush or because of how the animals are moving there, but we’re not moving there. But anyway, okay. So why don’t we start out with Elizabeth tell us where people can learn more about the Dangermond Preserve, TNC, and then Hillary, the same for you and your lab?
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 55:29
Great, yeah, you can learn more at the Dangermond Preserve at our new website, dangermondpreserve.org, I think if you type dangermondpreserve.com, .net, .org; they’ll all lead to the same place, which is dangermondpreserve.org. And there, you can learn more about the Dangermond Preserve, you can learn about the Point Consumption Institute, which we didn’t talk much about here. But that is kind of the research and export arm of the Dangermond Preserve, to really take all the lessons we’re learning at Dangermond and export those out to the rest of the conservation world. Hopefully, the kind of drop in the bucket research that we’re doing in one place can be good lessons learned for the rest of the conservation world.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 56:13
And you can learn more about [email protected]. And there you can learn about all of the work that we’re doing. Across the world. The Nature Conservancy is a global organization. And the Dangermond Preserve is just one of many, many nature preserves and conservation lands across the world. And you can learn more about all of our different work at nature.org. You can also donate if you’re interested in supporting the conservation efforts of the Nature Conservancy there as well.
Hillary Young 56:48
Yeah, well, I don’t have as many great places to direct you to you, but you, you can go to UC Santa Barbara’s website. So we are the Young Lab. If you search Young Lab and UC Santa Barbara, it’ll pop right up. And we have a Publications page that has all of our research papers, the raw papers listed there, they often have links to popular science articles that might be more accessible about those kind of research publications. And then we, on that page also have a research site, where we describe some of the projects going on in our lab. Although I have to say Grace, I think you have to put up this project because I don’t think it’s up there yet. So to do list item for you.
Grace Lewin 57:31
Stay tuned for the recap of the project. I will set that up.
Kayla Fratt 57:38
You’ve got, we’ve got quite a bit of time between this recording and when it goes live. So maybe you do get it I’m sure you don’t have anything else that’s on your to do list.
Kayla Fratt 57:52
Alright, well, everyone. Yeah, thank you guys so much for coming on. And I know scheduling something like this is always a Herculean feat. Thanks for being flexible and working with us on this.
Elizabeth Hiroyasu 58:04
I appreciate it. Thanks for working with me my schedule.
Kayla Fratt 58:07
Yeah. I’ve always understanding of someone being in Costa Rica as part of the reason that schedule, it’s challenging.
Hillary Young 58:14
It was not the right place to try to do a video or podcasts call.
Kayla Fratt 58:19
Yeah, but they’re but they’re tried that it’s very challenging. Yeah, and for everyone at home, you probably know this by now. But you can find all of our information at k9conservationists.org. You can sign up for the course, you can sign up for Patreon to support this podcast. You can buy a bento box with Barley’s face on it if you need that. Yeah, they’re great. And all of that again at k9conservationists.org. We’ll be back next week. Bye!