Poop is Brown Gold: Genetic Analysis with Tara Wilson and Misa Winters

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Misa Winters and Tara Wilson about laboratory analysis of scat after field collection.

Science Highlight: Duration of urination does not change with body size

What can we learn from our scat samples?

  • Genetic analysis (what species, what individual, what did it eat, sex typing)
  • Morphological diet analysis (fur, bones, teeth, plants, insects)
  • Microbiome (bacteria and immune system interaction)
  • Parasites, pathogen analysis (bacteria and viral disease)
  • Hormonal analysis (stress, pregnancy, nutrition, relative age)
  • Age (isotope data)
  • Hormones in particular are great from scat because it is more representative of an animal over time, versus a blood sample which is a smaller snapshot in time and could be skewed by the stress of capturing or darting an animal.

What questions from samples are harder/easier to answer?

Easier:

  • Species ID from mitochondrial DNA (if you have good reference data)
  • Prey analysis (if you have a targeted strategy – e.g. it’s hard to use a single genetic marker to analyze ALL prey but it depends on if you’re looking for mammals, birds, fish, etc.)
  • Pregnancy (but actually need three assays estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone which can also point to a juvenile or adult).
  • Stress – is it nutritional or environmental (T3 or cortisol)

Harder:

  • Individual capture-mark-recapture since it uses nuclear DNA and relies on a good resampling scheme.
  • How many animals are on the landscape? Especially when using prey data, you have to make a lot of assumptions about how many predators can eat from the same prey species. We also know that DNA from prey is not equally represented after digestion, it will depend on the tissue ingested too.

Where to find Misa Winters:  Website | Instagram | Lab Instagram

Where to find Tara Wilson: Instagram

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.K9 Conservationists

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:01
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Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:07
Hello, and welcome to the canine conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I run canine conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I have the pleasure of nerding out with me so winters and Tara Wilson about laboratory analysis for Scott after field collection. So we’re talking genetics today. Tara is formerly worked as a research scientist in a World Wildlife Conservation Biology Laboratory at the University of Washington. being academically trained for field research and career experience in the lab, she has a unique take on both sides. In recent years, Tara has moved towards the field of data analysis and computer science. Tara currently resides near Seattle with her husband and two dogs Maisie and tiny bill. Welcome to the podcast Sara. Thank you for having me. Yeah, and then Meesa Meesa Winters is currently the molecular lab manager and senior scientist at conservation X labs. She has over nine years of wildlife genetics experience mainly focused on species identification and population origin from difficult sample types such as bone teeth, ivory, hair, and scat. Her previous work includes ecosystem analysis and predator prey relationships in mammals and birds, the tracking of poached African elephant ivory, and many other inquiries on species identification from forensic and ancient samples. She is currently contributing to the development of Nabbit, which is a handheld battery operated diagnostic tool meant to democratize species identification at anyone anywhere, and is responsible for translating the traditional lab process into field ready products. So, welcome to the podcast. I hope everyone can hear why I am so excited to talk to you both.

Misa 2:48
Yes, thank you. We’re really excited. We love talking about genetics and wildlife and poop. Especially.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 2:54
Oh my gosh, yeah, I feel like the three of us could probably just have a whole separate spin off podcast where we just talked about all of this for an hour every week. But I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I have time for that.

Tara 3:10
Alright, so

Kayla Fratt (KF) 3:11
you have one of you has a science highlight for us. So I’m gonna let you take it away with our weekly science highlight before we get into the interview.

Unknown Speaker 3:22
Go ahead, Lisa. Okay, yes. So I’m sharing. It’s not a very recent paper. But it’s something that’s always stuck with me. And it’s by Yang hit all published in 2014. And it’s called the duration of urination does not change with body size, and it was published in PNAS. And I love this paper. It’s not really about genetics, which is obviously my forte, it’s actually about like the physics behind the bladder and the urethra and how, when you look across different body sizes, so like from like mice, rats, all the way to elephants, there is amazingly a very similar bladder emptying time. That does not change with system size. And since we love talking about poop, this is about urine. It’s just basically about physics. And it’s really about having some amazing pictures and in there that like show up a bat like ping and whilst flying, and I think it’s a great favor, I highly recommend it.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 4:21
That will definitely link to the show notes. Go ahead, Tara.

Tara 4:24
So the takeaway is an elephant PS, relatively the same amount as a mouse would pee.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 4:31
Right. So it’s time for you but the same amount

Tara 4:35
of time? Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 4:39
Like, so I’ll get my pee like three gallons, but because when they pee, it’s like a fire hose. It takes as long as wet like a mouthpiece. It’s little like no one

Misa 4:52
because there’s no real like, evolutionary reason for that, right? Like is there’s no like fitness for like time to pee necessary. rarely,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 5:00
optimal duration of urination. Except maybe there is. It’s just

Tara 5:08
yeah, maybe it’s like group survival dynamics where I’m in a pack? Or if we’re social mammals that yes, we can do that if we’re together and it’s like, oh, now we all have to go use the bathroom. We you don’t want to be standing around waiting for Willie over here to just taken forever to pee. And then he’s the one who gets left out and gets picked off by some predator. I don’t know.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 5:30
We shouldn’t talk to the women at concert venues about this. Because I have some questions.

Misa 5:39
Like, how long does it take me to pee? Yeah, I mean, it’s really about gravity. And like the dynamics of like lateral flow, and like how the rethread basically works as like a limiter. And the size of the rethrow is really how you have that ability to dispense a very, very different amount of volume. It’s something like 3000 times difference, like there was an elephant and a mouse is like, 3000 times. Yeah. So it’s just crazy. I love it.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:08
Like, I’m so curious, I would love to talk to the scientists like, what was what was the hypothesis? What was the reason why why did this question matter? Or was this just like, you had a bunch of data on duration of urination for something else? And you were just like, Ha, this is weird, and then made it paper? Yeah, yeah.

Misa 6:30
We need to include, like, why did we do this research and all of our papers? Just curious. I feel

Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:35
like, I feel like an undergrad I had to, like write that as justification. And half the time I was very frustrated, because I was like, I don’t know, I’m in undergrad. This is like a three hour experiment. And I just thought it was interesting. And I want to get an A.

Tara 6:49
Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:52
So let’s get into the interview. First things first conservation dogs. A lot of the time we’re finding poop. What can we learn from our scout samples? Thanks to the work that the two of you do, or, you know, the many heroic scientists around the world, like the two of you, I would do?

Misa 7:10
I love this question, because we always talk about how like, poop is brown gold, right? There’s a very, very large array of things that you can do with poop. So you know, obviously, there’s genetic analysis and genetic analysis means many things. It’s like, what’s the species? What’s the individual? What did it eat, we can determine its sex. There’s also the morphological Diet Analysis, like just the physical properties of like, are there is there for bones, teeth, insects, you know, whatever, in the poop, you can look at the microbiome. And that has connotations for understanding the bacterial and immune system interactions. You can look for parasites, you can do pathogen analysis for bacteria and viruses, hormone analysis, which Terrell talked about, you can determine age of the individual, if you use isotopes. But yeah, go ahead to about four months real quick, Kara?

Tara 8:03
Yeah, just even you think about hormones. I think we’re all very familiar with stress hormones. And hormones are like our biological. And bio, I’m losing the word like kit, like, male system. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s like communicates with the rest of our body, you know, because things are really, really center pituitary glands, or I don’t even know if that’s right. But it like goes to wherever it needs to go and hit make things happen. So what’s so cool about poop and hormones is that if you can imagine trapping an animal, then somehow sedating it so you can take a blood sample from it. You think that animal is going to be super chill vibes? But that’d be freaked the fuck out? So that’s what’s so cool about using poop and getting hormones as you’re getting their baseline what their natural behavior elicited

Kayla Fratt (KF) 9:02
when they’re pooping. Yeah.

Tara 9:06
It’s my favorite pastime activity.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 9:09
Honestly. Yeah, I actually. So shortly before I got into the field, or maybe around the same time, I got into the field of conservation detection dogs, I was on a huge Robert Sapolsky kick. And I can’t remember which of his books it is. I think it might be a primates memoir. But he’s talking about he was doing research on the stress levels of baboons based on where they were in kind of a social hierarchy. And he’s telling these ridiculous stories of trying to stalk these baboons and blow dart them so that he can measure their stress levels with and like blow darting them without them having them notice. And without having, like he talked a lot about like, it was a big problem where the lower ranking individuals when they got started and started getting sleepy would then get picked on by the higher ranking individuals. And like so obviously, you know, just like his data, it sounds like Kevin, he clearly got it. But half of this book is just these ridiculous stories of this scientist trying so hard to measure stress levels when he’s having to dark these animals, which is inherently stressful.

Tara 10:11
Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s what makes poop such a, like a covert window into an animal.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:19
That’s one since we started talking about urination, you know, I think I would imagine in most cases, it’s a lot harder to collect urine than it is to collect scat, like urine may have some of the same info but in the wild. I’m not like coming across puddles of urine that I can just scoop up versus, you know,

Misa 10:41
very convenient having it in like a solid structure.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:45
Yeah, really nice.

Misa 10:47
The other thing, and then like, I just want to spend too, because like, we talked about stress hormones, but like, we can also obviously determine pregnancy. And there’s differing types of stress hormones that point towards like nutritional deficiency versus like, kind of like emotional, cognitive stress. And Sydney can also kind of look at age to some degree with hormones as well, like as a mature adults or juveniles.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 11:10
Mm hmm. Wow, that’s Wow. Yeah, that’s great. Okay, so

Misa 11:22
we’re seeing the animal?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 11:24
Yeah. Yeah. So then, kind of, on our end of things on, you know, whether it’s a conservation dog handler or someone else who’s doing scat analysis, how does like our sample collection on the front end, make your job easier or harder? You know, how does that come into play? You know, because it’s not like I’m just wandering around with like a doggie wag bag and picking up the entire sample, and then bringing it to you guys. Usually. Military,

Tara 11:57
yes, when there’s quite a few. And, of course, the first thing that we think about is, if it’s possible to get the freshest poop available. That’s the, you know, one of the first things we want because we want, we don’t want poop from a year ago or two years ago, you know, we want the most snapshot information that we can get. But even small things like you want to talk about the quality of a Ziploc bag Mason, I can go on forever about good Ziploc bags and oil, shitty Ziploc bags. Yeah, you really want a good Ziploc bag, you needed it to be sturdy enough to be frozen and unfrozen, have liquid in it have solid, maybe pokey things in it, so it doesn’t poke through and contaminate other things. So just simple mechanics like that, like, please have a good Ziploc bag. Good quality one, and make sure everything is labeled really nicely. And, you know, again, that’s just kind of common fieldwork. I think anyone can attest to those things. And I think the the fun part that we can start talking about is, you think about collecting poop from a medium or small sized animal, you just have like a couple of logs that would fit in, like, we’re all thinking about a lunch. Ziplock bag. Yeah, you could fit. Yeah. But let’s say you’re studying bears, or even elephants and Musa is familiar with the elephant part? Well, that’s a huge mound of poop. How are you going to take like, you can even carry that around in your backpack all day, let alone like take it, transport it to a lab. So I know the lab that Lisa and I used to work in have considered this and did tests on the best way to collect poop. Like if you handler out in the field, you know, you cannot take the whole sample if it’s large, you know, so where do you sacrifice to ensure the homogenous representation of the sample? So we’ve done you know, a lot of research into that and testing and experiments to figure out the best way. So that’s another really interesting part.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 14:18
I was really surprised to learn as I was chatting with Dr. Karen Amadeo about I think I sent you about this paper. I’ve been calling it the glitter poop paper. That is about how non target species behavior can affect the perceived accuracy of the dogs. And I was really surprised when we were talking she was saying that if for example, a coyote urinated on mountain lion Scott, it doesn’t matter where you take the sample. It will like where are you where you grab the poop from. It’ll still have enough coyote urine in it to really throw things off and I had really hoped that we could just you know, dig into the center of the pile of Scott or something to like mitigate urine marking effects and really bummed to find out. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Tara 15:07
As you’re the inhibitor when we do DNA work, I can’t do you know?

Misa 15:12
Yeah, I mean, urine can be an inhibitor, like, you know, urea itself is not great. But you know, that’s why we do. You know, when we do the extraction process of nucleic acids, there’s a process that helps remove those impurities. Let me poop in general is also a big inhibitor. And when we say inhibitor, we mean that it’s, if you were to just like take a poop and stick it into a chemistry to try and amplify your DNA, it definitely would not work. You would have a process in between. But what you just said, yeah, really resonates with me, because when I was working in my ancient DNA lab, like back getting my masters, we worked with a lot of Native American coprolites. So coprolites are, like, basically fossilized human poops. And so when you look at Native American culture, a lot of times they they make these things called mittens. So they’re just like, you know, holes in the ground, and they throw all their trash in there. So like everything they ate, and they defecate there and pee there, and, you know, just kind of trash in general. So anthropologists are so excited when they find these, because then it’s like, oh, there’s all this cool stuff, and you to learn about what they did and their culture. But because there’s like layers, that exact same thing that like urination, of like, you know, like, is going to penetrate from higher layers to lower layers, and then it kind of percolates down. Yes. So we used to deal with that a little bit. And just like you were saying, like, in order to because you have like, it’s more of a hard substance coprolites, we would have to dig into the center of them to try to mitigate contamination, but when it’s fresh, and it’s wet, yeah, there’s really nothing you can do as soon as that Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:52
What? What is kind of the easiest level of DNA to work with? Is it saliva is like, what if you had a captive animal and you wanted to do genetic analysis? Is blood preferable? Saliva, like, because clearly Scott and urine are ideal?

Misa 17:12
That’s a great question. I mean, like, blood, blood is also really inhibitory. It’s the same thing, you have to go through a chemical processing to get rid of all of those blood cells. Because there’s no like DNA in the blood cells. There’s a lot of heme in there that interferes. So like, you know, yeah, saliva swab is not that saliva itself can be very inhibitive. Depends on what they ate. It depends on what they drink. You know, like, if you do like the ancestry.com, or 23andme, or whatever, they’ll tell you like, don’t drink coffee. So there’s little things, it doesn’t mean, we can’t get the data, it just means it could be a little more degraded or not as good quality. So yeah, I think a mouth swab is probably the easiest. And then blood just because it’s a little harder, you have to actually stamp the animal but what is still like a really great source. It’s a good quality. Yeah, actually.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:05
Gotcha. Well, I was kind of wondering, like, I was thinking 23andme, or like, when I did genetic tests for my dogs? Like, do they ask for saliva just because that’s the easiest thing for me to get, or because it’s the best thing for them. I don’t really care because I don’t really want to do a blood draw on my dog. But

Misa 18:20
it’s because of the convenience to the user. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:23
that’s what I kind of imagined. Yeah. Cool. Um, did you have anything else you wanted to add? As far as like sample collection? And what matters? I mean, do you have a short plastic bag rants that we need to go on?

Misa 18:40
Well, actually, I feel like okay, so what I want to say in a continuation to just the sample collection part is that, you know, we talked about Yes, like, have a good bag, have it well labeled. And then there’s also going to be a bunch of metadata right associated with this, generally speaking, and we’ll probably talk about this more in like, in more detail. But, you know, there has to be some way to record that information, whether you’re riding it on the bag, which seems maybe not the best with the dog in tow, or it’s, you know, on an app or a spreadsheet or something like there’s something that helps you understand, you know, you know, where are you located? What’s the vegetation surrounding there’s a lot of notable observations that are sometimes really helpful for us in the lab things like Are you near latrine? Are there animal indications nearby? You know, because sometimes, like, like you said, your example of like a coyote peeing on a cougar. If there’s other evidence nearby, like, kill like, like debris from a kill that you might be like, Okay, well, clearly a Cougar was here. So then if you get that like mixture, then it kind of helps you understand? Was it more like like, failure, cougar or something like that? Yeah. Anything that helps us down the road. do kind of like inquiries and investigations on what’s happening.

Tara 19:53
Yep. And Eve. Yeah, okay. We can’t be she’s right. Well, we can go more detail on that later on. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Misa 20:02
Tara, I think you should talk about real quick, the, like, homogeny of hormones. And yeah,

Tara 20:08
yeah. Um, so back to the story about different size poops, obviously, if when you come across a deprecation event, if you can get the whole thing that if that’s, you know, Primo, best option, but, as we talked about, with bear poops, or you know, some people have, or I’m saying people, some animals will have diarrhea, you know, and it’s like, every year. So what’s interesting about hormones is they are not homogenous throughout a poop, they have hotspots within, like, if we just look at, think about regular logs like log poop, it is not going to be the hormone that we would we want to look for is not going to be homogenous throughout the log, there is going to be spots where it’s found high, and spots, it’s not found at all. So in these questions, were like, Okay, well, we’re coming, we want to sample therapists, how can we, you know, we don’t want to miss taking a corner off one end, and then you’re missing this whole other, you know, mud pie of hormone data that we would totally miss. So one of the things was a solution, a suggested solution for the field handlers is like, go there and mix it up. You know, get up your little poop pile? Yeah, like, maybe. Just have fun with a nice little pile of poop, get it all nice and nice. And then take little pieces from here and there. And sometimes that is hard to do. Because it could be I can imagine, sometimes it’s desiccated, or really crumbling. Or so if that’s not possible, then take small pieces from all around that that would be the next best thing.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 22:06
Gotcha. And is that and you may not know this question, because this is maybe more of like a physiology question as part of that, because like, you got to think like, for at least some animals, like based on your metabolism. A poop takes eight hours to produce six hours to produce. And your hormones could spike differently throughout that, like, if I have a panic attack, and our three have a poop incubating. Would that show up like in part of it, but not in other parts? I, again, that might be a physiology question. But is that kind of the problem?

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Tara 22:39
I do not know the answer. But what you discussed is probably what I would also educated the guests with, you know, like, you know, we have one we have our intestines, which are tube and your chuck your, our intestines are pushing this fecal matter through the tube. So right, the one part of the intestine, you know, it gets absorbed in things more so than the I don’t know. Yeah, I ever Yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:04
I would just Well, yeah. And especially, I guess, at least compared to like urine, which I imagine like, your bladder isn’t stratified? Where, like, different parts of it are, are all that different. It probably gets pretty well mixed up. Oh, that’s so interesting. I’ve never thought of that. This is I’m realizing we probably should have put a content warning at the beginning of this. Just like this is a lot of poop

Unknown Speaker 23:27
we’re getting later. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:33
I mean, with the title that we’re going with, like, I feel like the the warnings in the title. So anyway.

Tara 23:43
So what?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:44
What questions from samples are, like easier or harder to answer? Is it really easy to be like, okay, yep, that’s a that’s a species, you know, a given species. And sex is pretty easy. But like, I don’t know, Pregnancy is a little bit more challenging, or it’s pregnancy really easy, but stress levels are hard. Does it depend on the species?

Tara 24:07
I think I think Anita is going to have some really good parts about Allah, I’ll set her up here. You think about data in general, if you have garbage in, you have garbage out. So the best thing is, you know, segwaying perfectly from the hormones situation. We want the best sample possible to gather this information. But for DNA, I think, you know, because I worked a little bit more on the hormone aspect. So that’s where my mind first goes, but I think for DNA, I think Musa might have some really cool things. Go ahead.

Misa 24:43
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s not it’s an answer. We hate giving, which is like, well, it depends, you know, so easier or harder. There isn’t necessarily a set rule, you know, things like that. I mean, obviously, certain things are gonna take more work more effort, whether they’re harder or easier. I’m gonna guess let me start harder because it’s more work. But yeah, like, you know, typically doing species identification is not hard. But there are pitfalls. You know, some species are more challenging for weird genetic reasons. So like felids, they have this weird thing. So it depends, like on a roll back here. So when we talk about genetics, there’s, you know, your nuclear genome, like as in your chromosomes, and then there’s also for, you know, mammals. There’s more than just mammals, but there’s your mitochondrial DNA. So these are organelles. And your cells also have a genetic code. And they kind of like mitochondria like the powerhouse. Some people know this. But there’s also genetic information in the mitochondria that encodes for certain proteins. And these are universal across many, many species.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 25:51
Because the mitochondrial stuff, that’s the stuff that’s matrilineal right, yes.

Misa 25:56
Yes. Correct.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 26:01
downwards, just if anyone doesn’t know what matrilineal is, okay, now go? Yes. Yes. So

Misa 26:08
we have to think so you have to think about that because mitochondrial DNA. So because it exists in an organelle in your cell, and your one cell can have multiple mitochondria in it. So just by a factor of numbers, it’s easier to target mitochondrial DNA because there’s going to be more copies than your chromosomal nuclear DNA. And that’s usually what Wilker scat. We want to use mitochondrial DNA because it’s just you’re more likely to get good information. It doesn’t mean you can’t get nuclear DNA, it’s just going to be harder, it’s going to be less quality, probably or it’s going to be less numerous. But because of the fact that you said it’s matrilineal, there’s certain questions you can’t answer with mitochondrial DNA, right? Like you can’t. You can’t do sex typing mitochondrial DNA. It’s really hard to do individual identification with mitochondrial there’s just not enough diversity in the mitochondrial DNA because it’s not it’s very conserved across a number of species. Wouldn’t it

Kayla Fratt (KF) 27:06
potentially be the same or similar from would it be the same for siblings? Like is mitochondrial DNA?

Unknown Speaker 27:14
Yeah.

Tara 27:15
The same Mom, if they have the same, okay, yeah, yeah. So

Kayla Fratt (KF) 27:18
if you’ve got like full siblings, okay. Yeah, I so I had a concussion during my genetics class in college. And like, I Yes, it was terrible. I have a lot of questions. I’m like, I really should remember this. I have a degree in biology, but I was concussed. It was a concussion. But yeah, not great.

Misa 27:42
Yeah, you have to think about it when you’re talking about like, Okay, what’s the purpose of the collection? And what’s the answer we’re trying to get. And then that’s going to help determine, you know, some of the sample collection practices, because if we’re saying, like, hey, we don’t care about CJD, because maybe there’s only a certain animal in the landscape, or maybe the dog is only trained to a certain species, and so we’re not worried, then, you know, you can probably target your nuclear genetics there. And that’s where you’re, if you want to know, because we talk about like marker capture, this is a very common thing, we want to understand how many individuals are on the landscape. So in that case, you have to use nuclear DNA, which means you have to have good samples. And it’s back to what Tara said garbage in, garbage out. If you have any ambiguity in the sampling, for the most part in the back of the lab, we’re going to be like, we don’t want to touch it. We don’t even want to spend the money to play with it. But there are cases where you don’t get a lot of samples, right? There’s just reasons why you can only have a certain amount of time in the field, you don’t collect all you don’t find a lot of poop for whatever reason, or you don’t find very good quality. And then that’s like the opposite. You’re like, Okay, we have these precious samples, and we’re going to put everything we got out of them. So it always, it always just depends in terms of what’s easier or harder. Because if you have the case of like, we collected 1000 Scouts, okay, great. Now you can kind of pick and choose which ones you think are the best, especially if you’re looking at those nuclear questions, which are like sex ID, individual ID, marker capture things like that. Okay, but yeah, doing predator prey? Species ID is generally not too hard, because you can usually do that with the mitochondrial DNA.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 29:20
Gotcha. And then, like, would parasite load? Also, I mean, that’s, that’s not even necessarily genetics. I suppose it’s more on like much more of like a molecular level.

Misa 29:29
Yeah, I mean, you can determine if a parasite is present, but it’s hard to know, like, at what quantity just by a genetic test. I mean, there are certain technologies now that kind of let you point more towards like, how prolific is this, you know, genetic signal. But there’s papers that talk to us all the time where you it’s really hard to do quantitative correlation with scat in general, because there’s so many variables that can impact you Like, why you’re seeing the quantity that you are and it could be related to like, because it’s because it seems like we try to do the slot like, Okay, I have a wolf poop. And we know that it needs moose and eight essential hair or something like that. And then you start wondering like, Okay, so that’s one moose and one snowshoe hare that’s on the landscape. And then now I have more wolf poops that also have moose in them, but then you don’t know, are they eating from the same moose? Or are they eating different moose? And that’s, you know, that’s a little bit simplistic when talking about large ungulates. But if we’re talking about small mammals, and then you’re assuming like, okay, every meal is one individual, like, again, it’s all about, you have to really understand your question and your metrics. And you’re not going to get a perfect capture of like, everything an animal ate, because genetics systems are not perfect. Like, we don’t have a way to perfect would be like, and there’s a moose and there’s a deer and there’s a whatever, like the the chemistry is we use have a lot of variation in them. And so they’re not perfect in terms of quantifying Yes. Yeah, and this

Kayla Fratt (KF) 31:03
may be an extremely simplistic analogy, but I’m remembering like being in grade school and dissecting owl pellets. And it was kind of like, unless you had the skull, it was really hard to say how many mice were in a given hour pellet, because you’re like trying to count ribs. And you’re just like, I don’t know if this is a rib from a shrew, or a bowl or a mouse because I’m in fourth grade. But also, you know, unless you found two skulls, you didn’t really know for sure that there were two in there. Yep. Exactly. Okay. And it looks like you had something else you wanted to add.

Tara 31:39
Yeah. To accentuate like what Lisa said, when she’s saying, you know, nothing is ever perfect, we can get as close as possible, but it’s not, there’s going to be issues because of what she just described. So therefore, because poop is kind of this renewable resource, perhaps maybe that might be a stretch to call it renewal. Because it is so available, you can have your sample number high. Like Lisa mentioned, 1000 poops, I think when we did a project that she networked together, I think we had 4000 poops, and having those high numbers will decrease your error will give you more buffer. So that’s also a perk about using poop is that you can get a whole bunch of it. Because you know, the picture is not going to be perfect, but at least you know, when you got a good P value, it’s going to be a good picture.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 32:37
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great, I mean, I think if logging can be renewable than poop can be renewable. It might not be quite as renewable sunshine. But

Tara 32:51
yeah, I mean,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 32:52
I think the reality as well when we’re looking at ecological monitoring is that our other samples are not perfect, either. So I know, I’ve been working on some stuff that’s hopefully going to be working with some small cats in the Amazon. And, you know, yeah, cats, as Mesa hinted that can be tricky fields can be tricky. But camera traps aren’t perfect either. You know, as far as like, it’s really, really hard kind of impossible to identify an individual jaguarundi from a camera trap photo. Because they all kind of look the same unless you’ve got a really nice distinct rosette pattern on a Jaguar or something, it might be really difficult to tell how many you’ve got from camera traps. And I know I was actually I just saw this on Twitter yesterday. Some biologists from Panthera tweeted out a photo of some really crazy looking like a teeny, tiny wild cat from the bone, I think that had a crazy long tail. And he was like, this is one of the only known photos in existence of this species because they’re almost entirely arboreal. And I almost tweeted back at him. I was like, does a poop land on the ground? Yeah, I mean, I know sometimes primates it’s really hard to get scat samples from and like, everything wants to eat poop in the tropics. So you’re like, ridiculous time crunch to try to find poop when it comes from an arboreal species, and it’s coming down. But I think the point I wanted to make was as imperfect as Scout may be, I think it’s still obviously we all think it’s valuable, especially when we’re comparing it to, you know, something like a hair trap, or a camera trap or something. So, what we’ve kind of hinted at this, but what are some of the limits of what we can learn from scout and this is, you know, just another good study design question. Like, what are some questions that maybe would be really difficult to answer if we were trying to go at it through scout?

Misa 34:46
I mean, yeah, you just touched on it, you know, cuz like we touched like, oh, maybe the camera trap isn’t as good but like, you can also flip it on its head and be like, well, you know, poop doesn’t always tell you enough about behavior. I mean, you can drop like some things about behavior from poop rather some of the some that you can kind of understand from like the whole picture of like, what’s the hormone saying? What’s the, you know, prayed data saying, but in terms of like live video feed or photos of the animal doing certain things like obviously, you know, scat can tell you that behavioral picture,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:21
I can jump in on that just I feel like I’m here for you guys to tell the science and then I’m here to be like, Okay, here’s an anecdote that like may or may not fit. Tell me if this makes sense. i So last summer, I read the Wolverine way by Doug Chadwick, which is about a really, really cool project in Glacier where they had all these radio to collared Wolverines. And I kept reading it. And there were parts of this book where I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is just, this is pretty invasive study. They talk about, you know, they’re trapping the Wolverines actually had surgically implanted transmitters in some cases instead of radio collars. Really, really intensive stuff. But some of the data they were getting, I was just like, wow, there’s no way I could get that from Scott, where they, they actually found that father, Wolverines will occasionally travel with their offspring, even though they don’t help raise them. And they were only able to show that by getting so many data points of the two GPS collars, so close together in time and space so many times. And from Scott, you know, we may find Dad and Sons poop next to each other. But we can’t say for sure that the son wasn’t just following eight hours behind dad because of his leftovers or something like that. They were able to show that at least in some cases, this does happen where they are in the same place at the same time for hours at a time. Yep, yep. Tara, did you have anything else to say as far as stuff we maybe can’t? or difficult questions to answer using Scott.

Tara 36:48
Even along the same lines, I’m thinking about camera traps, getting an image? I don’t even know if this is a possibility. But you know, what, if in pictures, you can see that, wow, all of these animals ears are now being deformed or like maybe there’s some toxin in the area that’s affecting the ear morphology, or you know what I mean? Like we would not be tell that from scat for sure. So there are definitely really cool things that you know, this piece of the puzzles get can provide this piece of the puzzle camera tracking can provide, when we you

Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:30
can imagine like a deer could get shot in the butt and have a shattered femur. And you would not see increased stress levels, but you would have no idea that happened. But if you had a camera trap, you may be able to see like, oh, wow, this something’s really not right with its back. Right, right. Yeah, yeah, maybe depending on the shot.

Misa 37:48
Yeah, and you mentioned parasites earlier too. And, and it is the case that like, you know, intestinal parasites that are shedding like worms, like yes, you can see, but there’s other types of, you know, even worm parasites, pathogens, etc, that because they become isolated in the body, you know, like a lot of some of these nematode worms, they burrow into the tissue and then kind of create like, a granuloma, random like a bubble around them. So that, you know, even if you are doing a genetic assessment to look for them, you may not find them because they’ve completely buried themselves within the body of the animal. So I mean, granted, you can’t just like see that from a camera truck, either. But I think there’s certain types of pathogens,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 38:32
like necropsy territory.

Misa 38:36
But you would see like a physical change, you know, is as an observation that you pick up Yeah. Oh,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 38:43
I’m even thinking like, I don’t know, I might be wrong, but like ear mites? I don’t know, like On physical exam, you’d be able to find ear mites relatively easily if you’re looking but I don’t know if they would show up and poop.

Misa 38:56
Or yeast infection. Yeah.

Tara 38:59
Yeah. I have a great limitary, scat story, question dancer answer to your question. I was doing a project where we were trying to study hoof disease, and you know, a bunch of ungulates out on the landscape. You know, we’re having this hoof disease. And to study this, it was like, in first in its inception, we got in contact with a dairy farm and they had cows that were laying, you know, sick or whatever. And they had healthy cows. And they’re like, Well, we had our experimental design and we were going to start with these dairy cows. We’re going to take poop from the lame ones, you know, the sick ones and take poop from the, you know, healthy ones, compare, do our analysis and see what we get. Well, if you can imagine we’re at a dairy farm. The cows are twos. Exactly. So we get there and it’s like, okay, we’re you’re looking Behind the cows, and it’s like a latrine of everyone’s process. Like when the dairy farm guy was like, I want a sample from this one, and I want to sample from this cow because he knows who’s healthy and who’s not. And so then once we got there, we were like, oh, you know what we have to do? We have to go in the cows, but so I stuck my

Kayla Fratt (KF) 40:22
we’re getting real log elbow gloves, aren’t we?

Tara 40:24
Yes, we did. I would shoulder deep and so many cows that day. And it was like one of the coolest experience I’ve ever had. I mean, I feel really bad for the cow, you know? Yeah. But it’s like the coolest thing ever. It feels great.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 40:42
Yeah, I actually I had a Tiktok this summer of so with the wind farms we were working on. We’re kind of grazing grounds for beef cattle. And I had, it’s like, I was like, Yeah, being a conservation dogs handler is so nice. I’m out in nature working with my dog and that I like flip the camera. And it’s like, mostly, it’s just walking through cow poop though. Endless cow diarrhea that you’re like just slumping through. And just being like, well, I don’t know how my dog is gonna find a dead bat in this, but he did sometimes. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, I really, I get a lot of pleasure out of just bursting people’s bubbles. Like how Instagrammable actually, though, it’s a lot of just walking through cat poop.

Tara 41:32
I asked. I have another thing to kind of touches on these, this question the question before. And, you know, I’m sure I would like to hear me says thoughts too. So these limitations are what makes a sample hard. One of the things that happened to me is I got the opportunity with my lab manager that left me said I used to work at to go out and work with our field handlers and our actual dogs. And you know, that had, you know, even though I was like, my degree that I went for school is field work. It, they didn’t teach us how to do dog handling searching for scat, right? So this was an amazing opportunity. And when we went out with her, and with the other handlers and got to see like, what they actually do, we walk through that we hiked through and found samples. And it was so enlightening for me as a lab, a laboratory person to see so many things that I never would have thought about. And one of them just a small example is these dogs that we were working with were really both crazy. They like love their ball, right. So as soon as they find something, you got to reward them by throwing their ball while the dogs running and coming back, like here’s my ball, and they’re slobbery and all excited. And the handlers like trying to use their body as a shield, like dome over this sample that they just found while they’re trying to throw a ball at the same time. All while not contaminating this sample. You have a dog running around like crazy, a slobbery ball that’s bouncing around, like quite crazy. So one of the things we ended up doing is we genotype all of our hands, or dogs, or conservation canines that we did. So it was like, if a dog was coming across the sample, Nick accidentally touched it with their nose and their nose is all wet and delicious. And so kissable and they touch it and they get like little snot on the poop. You know, let’s say we genotype and it’s like, oh, that was Skill B, that, you know, we found we found canine DNA on the sample, because that was our dog that contaminated it. Oh, that’s so smart. I Yeah. Yeah, that’s kind of what we did. Yeah, we

Misa 43:51
bring it up. Because I know, it’s not always the case that, you know, field handlers working with a lab so intimately. And I think it’s something that you should always offer as a suggestion. Like if they are doing any kind of genetic work on canids. Especially, you know, you should be like, Oh, do you want to take a mouth swab for my dog? Just you have it for your reference. I think it’s

Kayla Fratt (KF) 44:11
so smart. Yeah, yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And I think I know the dog handler side as well. I know, like, I’ve fought a lot really hard about you know, not just how my dog needs to alert so that they’re not shoving their nose into the poop as like their trained behavior. You know, like we’re really working on getting them and both my guests are pretty good about it, you know, they need to tell me where it is, especially if it’s small but like can’t be drooling and then also helping you know, making sure that all our procedures as we’re collecting thickness and as we’re playing with the dogs and that they’re used to the idea of how we reward and how we interact around a sample so that you know I’m not I’m hopefully not having to battle them as much like it’s and you know, of course that’s not perfect, but yeah, Gina I’d never even thought about that. That’s so smart.

Tara 45:03
Yeah, it was really great. I just really echo what Musa said it was so valuable to have that moment to swap places. And what was also super cool is that when we went back to camp, we brought things from the lab and we were having them put on clubs that I have pictures of the handlers like pipetting and everything that they’ve never got to do. So it was it was really cool. It was such a great, like bonding experience team building experience.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 45:28
Oh my gosh, yeah. What an opportunity. That’s so great. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 45:32
that was good. Hi, Quinn and Luca here, Luca is an Akita mix and I adopted from a shelter almost two years ago, from a very young age, Luca has struggled with some general fear and anxiety, especially out in the world, I randomly took a nosework class and noticed a massive difference in her behavior, she was a lot more interested in exploring her environment and love going on adventures. I love being a Patreon because selfishly I get so much great information about nature and conservation that I would not have gotten otherwise, like books to read and articles to look at. I also get access to Kayla’s great knowledge. I am new to Patreon. But I’m excited to have a group of people to help Luca and I move forward with combining our love of nature and her natural sensibility. I love that I’m able to support someone exploring two of my favorite things conservation and dog behavior. And maybe one day with the support and knowledge from canine conservation. NIS I can get there myself. So,

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Kayla Fratt (KF) 46:28
you know, let’s talk about so most of time, unfortunately, you don’t get to go out to the field. So what happens when you get your ship and AppScan? What when? Where does it go? What does it do? What happens between us sending it off to you and you sending us back the data saying, Yep, you got the species you were looking for? Here’s the information or like blue? Unfortunately, it’s got some other stuff going on here.

Tara 46:50
Yeah. Go ahead. Aneesa. I can see him off. Yeah, sorry.

Misa 46:56
Yeah. So I mean, when we get samples to the lab, it’s always really exciting. And it’s really too bad. Like back when we did this regularly. Unboxing videos, we’re not a thing yet on social media, because we would have had a heyday. Yeah, cuz I mean, it’s always just like, you know, it’s interesting. We there were there were products worked on where you’d get hundreds 1000s of poops, not just once, but you get a fair amount at once. So yeah, I mean, it’s literally just Christmas, you’re opening it up, you’re looking at everything, there’s sort of this, like, you’re kind of looking across this breadth of what you’re looking at. I mean, we looked at a variety of ungulates, and predator species. So we’ve seen lots of different types of poop. So usually, it’s, it’s pretty boring, when it first shows up here, you’re just kind of look at your inventory list, you kind of like, collate everything and make sure it makes sense, make sure nothing’s missing, make sure nothing’s leaking, possibly cause contamination, and then that’s all going to get put into the freezer as fast as possible. And then we’ll go ahead and start, you know, thinking about processing. And so you know, if we’re doing a genetic processing, we’re going to collect a little bit of sample from the poop. And then we’re going to go through like, like a kind of studies like chemical processes to purify those nucleic acids. And then we’ll go ahead and run genetic analyses. And usually we’re running more than one type. So, you know, this takes many, many days to so like just the process of like getting nucleic acid out, that usually takes two to three days for a batch of samples. And then when you do the genetic analysis, depending on how many things we’re looking at, you know, if you’re doing individual identification, that’s going to be a lot of markers, because it takes a lot of information to get like that genetic fingerprint, you know, so just like we DNA fingerprint humans, we usually try to do same thing with animals, if we’re looking for individuals. And then we, if we’re going to do genetics, we have to do that first. Because if we’re going to do hormones, the scat is gonna get transformed. I’m gonna let Tara take over. Okay,

Tara 49:00
yeah. So what if, once it comes to the hormone side, why do we have to do it in this order, is, as we discussed earlier about the homogeneity of hormones, or lack there of hormones, being homogenous in a poop, we freeze dry the sample, so it turns it into, like, we eventually turn it into a powder. And then once it’s in a powder form, then we can mix it extremely, extremely well. And once it’s like completely homogenized, we take that sample from that and do our hormone analysis. So we are completely drying it out, mixing it all together and putting it in a state where, you know, you can’t you can’t go back and get some, some DNA from it. So that’s why in our experience, we do it in that order specifically.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 49:57
Gotcha. Wow. So yeah, And then there’s just a lot of pipetting, some some some centrifuges, some PCR. I don’t have

Tara 50:17
the alphabet P

Misa 50:21
Eliza is we do

Kayla Fratt (KF) 50:22
some flow cytometry or they’re like, like electro gel for Rhesus, like there’s like the gels and the, the little lines, but then you have to measure them like is that because

Misa 50:32
we were really fancy and we did do gels occasionally, usually you only do gels to confirm that something amplified before you’re going to sequence it. So sequencing means that you’re going to actually get like that physical like letter nucleotide map from the actual sample. So you can actually be able to visualize like, what is its actual nucleic signature, but we often used what’s called capillary electrophoresis. So it’s like a very, very similar concept to gel electrophoresis. But you can do it a lot faster. And because gel, what gels do, all it’s doing is it’s migrating your DNA fragment across, you know, structure, sorry, a scaffolding that limits the size. So like, the longer it takes the move, the larger it is, right? So you can do the same thing in a capillary, the longer it takes to go through, the larger it is. And so then you can kind of use like a fragment size. And then that way, you’re eliminating the data just to like a number, right, like, so this is a 300 fragment sequence versus a 250 fragment sequence. And this is specifically to the types of analyses where, if you, you know that there’s a lot of variability across the different targets that you have. So the different species that you have, then you’re able to be like, okay, 250 means Cougar, whereas 300 means Wolf, right? So okay. Yeah, so I don’t necessarily, we don’t always have to sequence it, like physically look at its nucleic signature to know what it is. But it’s all about your reference database. And that’s a big thing in all genetic Labs is you have to have good reference data for whatever species of interest or species of interest you’re looking at.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 52:17
Gotcha. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I was just, we were just talking separately over email earlier this week, because I got halfway through a grant proposal that was like, oh, no, I don’t know how to find a genetics lab to work with. How do I do this? So yeah, and you both were very helpful with that as far as trying to track down, you know, the right databases and those sorts of things. So next up, let’s talk some data analysis. we’ve extracted our information. Do we get a printout like what happens next? Again, so far, in my career, I’ve primarily just worked as like, a hired gun, I show up, I find the poop, I send it out. And then, you know, maybe I see the publication later. What happens next? What does it look like?

Tara 53:00
Oh, the world of magic analysis. I, you know, we run these really cool fancy machines, like Lisa was saying, and it spits it out in a data file, right? We all know what that is going to be. And what’s really fun is that in that lab, I was still using floppy disks in, you know, the 21st century. So that was fun. But, um, it just goes to show how unfunded conservation is, but that’s another step.

Misa 53:34
Yeah, some of our machines are so ancient that you have no choice. Yes, you can’t replace them. You got to keep using those floppy disks.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 53:40
Yeah. Wild Where do you even buy floppy disks? Do you have like a bunch of them sequestered for future? Question? Oh, my God, can you overwrite them? Are they like, like, can you reuse them? I don’t remember delete

Tara 53:54
files. You know, once, it was like a way that we could physically take the data on a floppy disk from the machine in one room to our desks where you know real internet is and then we would put it on there. Okay. But yeah, it’s pretty funny it we also had to use cassette tape cases, you know, like, not the tapes, but plastic cases, we had this device where the only thing that worked is you take two empty cassette tape cases, you tape them together and that was like the perfect thing to do this one part and it was just funny. It’s like, oh, God, it was if it when it breaks, you’re like, gotta go to the thrift store and find some cassette tape

Kayla Fratt (KF) 54:34
cassette tape Selena Kim, my gosh. Yeah, but anyway, well, and it’s just it’s ridiculous because I’m sure these are like gajillion dollar machines. Yeah, which is why we’re not replacing them. But you’ve got these like kajillion dollar machines, it’s so he’s frickin floppy disks. That’s wild. But yeah, it’s funny.

Tara 54:51
But um, so once we get the data, it’s just a data sheet. And that’s when the fun starts, or we can really start playing some inference Asian from it. And as Lisa had said earlier, metadata is what really like, frames up our picture, you know, we have the everything about the animal, the poop is the star of the show. But the metadata all around it is really important. So you’re out in the environment, there’s things like weather time of day, GPS locations, you know, what, what the, the handler might want to guess what they think this animal is given on the morphology of the skin. So all of that is parsed out. And we start to match up the data from the field to the data we’re getting in the lab. And this is all just spreadsheets, really, databases. And a lot of data hygiene, putting things in the right format, I mean, there’s a lot of slog, that’s just all of us have to deal with, where you put a date in Excel and shows up as a six digit number, that means nothing. And you have to go through all these things and make sure that they match. So, you know, once it gets in that format, it’s just like, data analysis, like statistics heaven, where you’re just going through and organizing things, putting things in charts, seeing if anything looks weird. Box and Whisker plots, let’s see, you know, you start putting all these data points and visualization, so you can hopefully see a picture that looks really cool. That’s, that’s the, I’ve really enjoyed that part, I really had a great time working with, you know, a ton of data and seeing what story it’s trying to tell you. Yeah,

Misa 57:02
cuz we were learning to play with a data set where it was kind of like, okay, we want to know what it is, we want to know what it ate. And then certain types of samples would also have hormones as well, because we identify it as like, Oh, it’s a wolf. It’s a female wolf, we want to see if that female is pregnant, because we also have the time of year, right? So we also know, etc, you can also look at whether a female’s lactating from the hormone analysis as well. So it’s but again, the data doesn’t say like pregnant or things like that, it has to be interpreted, right. So it always starts with this interpretation, just like Tara said, then it gets all put together. And then you can kind of get lost in it. Because there’s so many variables in some cases. Yeah. Right. And one of the things one thing that it’s kind of like to have the main question, you know, is the question how many visuals show in landscape. Okay, so now we’re going to do some really fancy, you know, landscape analyses and use models whose names I can’t remember anymore, you know, try to map the points across, you know, take your GPS units and your time and who it is and your marker capture, blah, blah, like, there’s a million things you could do is just like Tara said, usually you’re just trying to get to like a final visualization, whether it’s a map with things on it, or it’s a bar chart with, like, distribution of prey, or its number of individuals, and, you know, are they packs? Are they not packs, you know, things like that. So there’s, it’s, this is such a hard question to answer, because it’s always depends on the question, yeah, asked of the data, and then we can find stuff. And that’s always like, the pitfall in some ways with scientific data is that you could assign someone to just play with that data for like, hours and hours and hours, but just to try and find like, some random correlation that we don’t know exists. Because like, with the metadata, as Tara mentioned, you know, like, maybe there’s some correlation between like, if it was a rainy day, there’s less data from those samples, or maybe it’s the opposite. And then that kind of can help you understand. You know, I think they’re just like this is probably what’s missing in terms of like, lab information going back to the field, is, are there certain things that handlers can be doing differently or can be aware of that means you have better success in the lab later? And a lot of times those questions aren’t necessarily being asked explicitly, but technically, they’re hidden in the data if you go look for them. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 59:31
Oh, yeah. There’s so much to think about. And while I’m Tara, so you mentioned that you had done a little bit of a test seeing like, when the handlers have a guess. Like how, how accurate were they? I’m sure it varies wildly, like again, I assume I could probably tell the difference between like elephant and hippo

Tara 59:50
even though we, they’re both big and

Kayla Fratt (KF) 59:53
a lot of vegetative matter. I can probably tell the difference, but like I know, I don’t know like red fox and buck. had are supposed to be really difficult to tell the difference, like, yeah, what is kind of success? Right? Like for the human half of the equation?

Tara 1:00:09
Well, we had, what was pretty cool is that the data that the specific product I’m thinking about is the field. Biologists had their first guests, and they had like their second guests and the third guests, and they would write them and how confident they are in Oh, yes. So just that, I mean, like, I imagine, that’s probably asking a lot of a field biologist. So that was so awesome that they were able to provide that, but that alone, we were able to plot that in see, compare it to our results. And it was pretty cool. So we had a really experienced, I think he was the director at the time. In the end, he had like, one of the best scores, and I don’t have the data in front of me, but if I’m remembering correctly, I want to say was around 80% accurate? It’s pretty good. Yeah, that is fairly good. And, you know, everyone trailed from that, you know, and some people could only work for half the season. So you know, the power of their analysis is going to be lower, because we have less data points, but it is really. Of course, you have these wonderful skill sets that are like the textbook example of an felid versus a canid. But when somebody has diarrhea, he had no one now. Yeah. And no fault to the to the, you know, the field scientists, it’s like, sometimes you just, it’s just gonna be in pot. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:01:55
Yeah. Super desiccated, or it’s, like crumbled, or yeah, whatever. Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. So what, gotcha, how, you know, circling back, I hinted at this earlier, you know, like, as far as finding labs, how different are different labs? You know, what are some of the things that you’re thinking about as if you were trying to design a study, and so you’re not embedded in a research university, where there’s a good chance, you’re just going to be able to, you know, find someone, either through your university or through connections within your university?

Misa 1:02:37
Yeah, I mean, the short answer is, they’re all very different. Generally speaking, it’s funny, because it’s like, you know, it’s the scientific method. So, you know, we all follow the same parameters, and we all, you know, technically publish on similar things. But the nuances are different in the methodologies. And then obviously, the biggest thing is specializing, because for most labs, most people, right, there’s only so much time in your day in your life, to become an expert on a certain species or group of species. And so it’s not, you know, we don’t really have these Wildlife Service labs, really, I think that’s going to start changing. Because you like veteran, veterinary forensics is starting to become a little bit more of a thing. We know that conservation and forensics kind of go together on some level, we know that like, you know, legal wildlife trafficking is connected to crime and organized crime and things like that. So I think it’s good change. But in terms of, especially when we talked about academia, you know, generally, you’re talking about someone who’s dedicated their entire career towards, like, said one species or a group of species. So it can be really hard to be like, Okay, I want to or like, or even like, thinking about geography, you know, are you looking at something in South America or certain state, you know, as we know, animals don’t respect our borders, and our boundaries? So, you know, it’s kind of like, it may not be because like, you’re like, Oh, I’m going to do a study, maybe in like, let’s say, California, but you know, it might be just as good to talk to someone in Arizona, Nevada, because, again, those populations are probably moving across the same landscapes, you know, similar with any of the smaller countries. So you kind of have to do your own research, so to speak, to find a lab. You know, academics are the best place to start. You know, sometimes they don’t have time to answer you. And that sucks. Sometimes they are completely open to the idea of like, oh, yeah, you have a study you want to do. Like, yes, it costs this much, but not all of them have the time or luxury or like capacity to process samples for you. And, you know, fundings always a problem too, and that way, you’re hoping that will change you know, like it is it’s my own dream to kind of have a Wildlife Services lab that’s really broad and can open to a lot of different stuff. issues, but it’s like anything else, you don’t want to monopolize analysis to a central place, right? Because you want to respect the people that are gonna, that are in these locations that understand these animals or these ecosystems the best and have them have as much opportunity as possible to research and have access to those samples as well.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:23
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I know, I’m in between reaching out to the two of you. I did a little bit of Twitter research. And then when I was just trying to find a lot, and I was just trying to get a couple of ballpark numbers and names for a grant proposal that’s like, a total shot in the dark. And the other thing that I did that I, you know, as you said, as far as reaching out to academics, I found a couple of papers with the target species I was thinking about, and then tracked down, you know, the authors of those papers, if they had been doing genetic analysis and ask them, like, who did you work with? Do they still, they still have friction? And, you know, on, on the note, and maybe, on the note of the fact that they don’t respect borders, you know, one of the things at least one of the labs brought up is, we would want known samples from your area, because we have, like our current target reference information is from like, I think it was from Belize, and you’re talking about Ecuador. So in that case, they were actually far enough apart that they were, they were like, Yeah, we would need some known samples from Ecuador, even though we have worked with those species before.

Misa 1:06:29
Yes, absolutely. And that goes right back to that reference database. Exactly. Because it’s not enough to be like, Oh, yes, we’ve worked with this species, but not in that area. And it’s hard, because if you’re if especially if you’re kind of naive to the biological history of a species, you know, like wolves alone are challenging because they have some isolated populations across the US. And then there’s like, you know, arguments and evidence of like, some of them are unique subspecies now, because of how isolated they’ve become. And we know this with Cougars like Florida Panthers are arguably their own population, their own species at this point,

Tara 1:07:08
goes here in the Pacific Northwest who, right?

Misa 1:07:11
Yeah, so this happens all the time. And as someone that’s maybe naive to that, you wouldn’t know that until you have access to that research of that knowledge.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:07:19
Yeah, I mean, I know. So I wrote a Fulbright grant last year, and I wrote the whole Fulbright without realizing that en cas are now called northern Tiger cats by the IUCN, because they’ve been split into two different species. And I realized

Misa 1:07:40
I mean, like, I have this pet peeve, because so the company I work for now, like, our whole thing is that we’re trying to stop extinction. And you get stuck as Genesis and taxonomy. And, you know, there’s arguments back and forth about whether taxonomy is worth anything because, you know, evolution is fluid. It’s happening now. So genetics are changing. So it’s really hard to like in this snapshot in time is that its own species subspecies like what? Obviously we

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:08:07
haven’t we love our love categories. Come on.

Tara 1:08:17
We want to categorize

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:08:19
rich dude in the 1700s I would have loved to being a taxonomists. I know Oh, my God, I just want to

Misa 1:08:30
know rameters we need

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:08:36
that niffler it’s like getting worried back.

Misa 1:08:43
Excited about taxonomy. You know, like, we thought there was only like two species of giraffe like, just a couple of years ago. And now we know there’s like nine. You Yes. Yes.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:08:57
I missed that. Yeah, go

Misa 1:08:59
look it up on Wikipedia. And so that’s its own frustration, because when you’re talking about especially species are endangered, right to go from, you know, okay, it’s two subspecies to like, Oh, now it’s nine. And they’re all geographically distinct. Now, do we have samples that represent all of those populations? No, definitely not, you know. And so this is kind of one of those things that we have to always be empathetic to in science, is that the data? Because sometimes people get frustrated, right, like, now the data is wrong, because we didn’t know this thing. Right. But it’s like, but again, that’s gonna happen. There has to be some grace in the fact that the way we approached a question at one point is definitely not going to be accurate across time, because we’ll learn more and more and more things. But yes, it’s the whole point is just understanding your target species and the many ins and outs of their life history is so so critical, so that Wouldn’t you do that genetic analysis? Or your hormone analysis or whatever it is your spatial analysis, that you’re going to have data that’s going to hopefully be relatively accurate for a larger period of time?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:10:12
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. So I think that’s a good note to pivot on. Looking forward to the future, like, what are some of the things that we may be able to see as far as field identification or other tools we maybe will get to see in our lifetimes, I know we’ve got the Nabbit maybe device from conservation X. Micro labs, like what else do we what do we have to look forward to as very expensive toys later in our careers?

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Misa 1:10:43
as well? Hopefully, they’re not going to be as expensive, right? See, with all the supply chain issues going on, but so you said it, yeah. So the navet, that’s something I’m very proud to be working on. I’m going to answer the first part of the question first, though, which is, what are the technologies that we are going to be looking forward to? So one of the big things is kind of like, it’s almost unrelated in a way, but because of things like Elon Musk’s Starlink, which is going to revolutionize access to the internet, everywhere in the world, that is going to open up a lot of doors to like remote capabilities to have, you know, real time actionable things happening, because you’re not remote anymore isn’t like you’re gonna go out in the field and collect all the data and then like few days later, gets to where it needs to be. Because now I have cell phone service, like, soon, that’s not going to be an issue anymore. Like we can centralize everything, if you wanted to, we could put camera traps everywhere, and like real time them paying them off the satellites, etc. So that’s one thing to think about. Like that’s, it’s well known that advancement in technology is exponential. Right. So like, if you think about the time between, like when the when the wheel was made to like the Industrial Revolution, and then the time between the Industrial Revolution, and now and like the advances we’ve made, it’s an exponential curve. So that, you know, we are going to see some major changes just in the next 1012 years probably. And I say this a lot just because I work for what is considered a conservation technology company, right? So a lot of what we do isn’t just based on like, oh, constants, conservation, like kind of those like ecology, biology approaches, it’s more about how do you create scalable and accessible, accessible meaning like, it’s cheap, it’s easy to disperse to multiple people, multiple languages. So you can empower a lot of people very quickly, right, because we know that the problems that we’re facing with climate change and habitat loss and all these things, pollutants, you know, like, name it, we can’t, we can’t take 10 more years to kind of get there. Even though that’s sort of a plan, right, we have this whole 2030 framework for how to not lose biodiversity. So that’s what has to be the solution, or these types of things that allow you to go into the field and get information really quickly, so that it can be actionable really quickly. And so you mentioned the habit. And that is something I’m very proud to be working on. So that actually stands for the nucleic acid barcode identification tool. And so it was originally thought of to be like a handheld sequencer, but we can’t actually sequence in real time that’s like, where we don’t quite have the chemistry is yet to do that. There are people working on it, though. So you know, it’s coming, it’s coming eventually. So in what am I mentioned, that is because when we’re talking about taxonomy, the best way to understand like, what an unknown in front of you is, is to just sequence it and then like, blast it against a huge reference database that then tells you like, an algorithm will tell you, Oh, it’s most closely related to this, or most closely matches this. And therefore, you know what it is? So we’re kind of doing one step below that, which is that we create chemistries that understand a question. So like, it’s it presents absence, you know, is it XYZ. So you can be like, oh, I want to know if it’s Cougar, bobcat, red fox, or, you know, insert other species here. And we could create a custom chemistry that would do that for you. And it would work on our handheld tool. So it’s portable, it’s battery operated, you don’t have to use a pipette. You don’t need cold chain storage, nothing. The whole point is that you can track the DNA, run the sample, and get your answer all within 40 minutes. And we’re trying to reduce that even further. So I mean, it’s still in development. And it’s it’s really hard getting those assays. So assay means like the chemistry that can detect a target. That’s what takes a long amount of time. It’s partially because especially about endangered species, as I just mentioned, if you don’t have good reference data or access to reference samples, meaning like this sample definitely came from A draft and it was definitely this species in this place, it makes it even harder. So thank you for listening to that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:15:09
No, I mean, it sounds fascinating. And like, it would be a pretty exciting game changer in the field, especially when we’re in this in the conservation dog world, you know, if you if for some reason your dog is potentially alerting you to non target species that are visually similar to your target species having something like that. I mean, it wouldn’t necessarily, it wouldn’t be fast enough to decide whether or not to reward your dog. But it would at least be a big time saver and space and money saver as far as like, Okay, do I want to bother sending this off for the next step of its career? In the lab?

Misa 1:15:49
Yeah, because like, it could be something that you do at the end of the day back at camp, or like, Okay, I’m gonna run these last 10 samples and see for even worth keeping maybe.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:15:58
Right, exactly, or I know, like, on the wind farm last summer, there was a couple of times where we found a bit of a wing fragment of a bat. And we were supposed to always, you know, alert, or, you know, have, we’re supposed to identify the species. And usually, we had enough of a bat, but sometimes we didn’t, or sometimes it was a little bit questionable, like if it had rain, and the carcass was really soggy. And particularly if then the forearm measurement is a specific length, then there’s a chance that it’s an endangered species, and then people need to know right away, right. So like that sort of thing. That would be a huge game changer. versus, you know, the whole song and dance that we had to do this summer, instead of like, trying to take all these pictures and all these measurements, and sometimes it’s still had to go in for DNA analysis. And then obviously, it could be a couple of weeks, before we knew if that had been an endangered bat or not. That had been killed. At that point, it’s been so long. You know, it’s,

Misa 1:16:57
yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that’s like a point, like just what you said, actionable, that was always the point, it was kind of inspired by the illegal timber trade. Because that’s actually, really, it’s really bad. Yeah, we have like these whole forests being completely decimated. And then they try to, you know, say it’s one thing and if the other because it’s site is listed, or whatever it can apply timber is really challenging, we have kind of like, another thing, a development that we’re hoping will help us deal because trying to extract DNA from timber is very, very hard, even in a lab. So that’s one of the things that we have, kind of going on in the underground, hoping that will come to be. Yeah, and the other thing I want to mention to before Terror Response is that there’s another program in our company, and they’re making what’s called the Sentinel. And it is an AI machine learning algorithm that can be used in conjunction with a camera trap. And what it can do is it can give you, so what you do is you train a model. So like, let’s say you’re looking at gorillas, in, you know, the Congo or something. So there’s a couple things you can do. Because normally what happens, right, you have Kevin Trump, and you leave it out there for like a month, and then you gotta go hike out there, and you get the data and you bring it back. And then you sit there and you watch hours and hours and hours. And then you say, oh, there’s a girl. The whole point of the machine learning is that you can train this algorithm to be like, That is a gorilla, like, so it knows when it sees an image that looks like a gorilla, gorilla. And then it alerts and, you know, like Earth Rangers already doing this and Africa. So this is, you know, it’s a similar idea. But again, it’s about we want it to be as accessible as possible. So rather than you being a coder, and someone has to understand AI, we’re also kind of delivering this system, like a user interface that lets you train your own model without having that programming knowledge. You just need to give it enough images of like, this is my target, this is not my target. And we also are trying to push it to the perspective of it can also understand and alert on behavior. So you can determine an animal that is sick, or the as you know, doing something that you’re particularly interested in the moment and it can it also like tag that with the image it’s reading. I’m really excited about it’s gonna have so many different applications and it’s just gonna be so helpful.

Tara 1:19:27
I stopped Well, I saw I’m sure you’ll add the things later on. But if anyone can should go follow me says conservationist page because I think Musa you have posted it on that have a little clip of the gorillas right showing like walking and then one was like digging, right? Yeah, cool. That was amazing. It was so cool. Yeah,

Misa 1:19:53
it’s on the conservation slabs.

Tara 1:19:56
Yeah, but no, I

Misa 1:19:57
shared it definitely. Because I’m yeah Do

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:20:01
we’re gonna have to dig that up? Oh my gosh, well, and I’m just imagining, so I was just home in Wisconsin and my dad is doing like a DNR community science program where he’s got a bunch of camera traps out on his property, he lives on 40 acres in the middle of nowhere. And, you know, we were, we were coding images together. And he had after like a week of data, like a week of camera dropping like 400 images. And it would have been really nice if it could have flagged because there were a couple of a bobcat on there. Which is much more interesting than the dozens and dozens of pictures of Raven. So we thought you know, and it would have been really nice if we could have flagged those even if it wasn’t perfect, but just at least to have it kind of be like, hey, these ones give this one’s an extra look.

Misa 1:20:49
Yeah, or even like, here’s movement, like here’s an actual living thing. Yeah. Versus flaring. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:20:55
yeah. It’s a still trapped, or like a still camera, so it doesn’t have as much video? Yes. Got it. Yeah, yeah, it was a little bit easier. But still, so. Okay. I think our last question because we do have to wrap up here. We tried to keep it on an hour. And I don’t want to our listeners are probably gone a little glassy eyed already. I mean, I could talk forever, but well, we’ll respect everyone’s time.

Tara 1:21:24
I think I know, you’re looking at our last question, right? Yes, yes, yeah, I want to and we can edit this out however much, you know, whatever they want. But I want to make a point, which I think it’d be really important. Like what Lisa was describing at her company working on the EBIT. You want to zoom out for a second and think about big picture things. So as we all know, in our world, right, now, we have a problem. Or maybe I shouldn’t say problem, we have a bit of a struggle with scientific literacy in the population. And part of that is because you think about these machines that nice and I’ve been talking about these are huge, enormous, heavy machines. How is anyone supposed to, like get any experience with that, right, you have to go into a lab. And you know, not everyone can do that. Right? So what I think is so critical, and pivotal about companies like conservationists, that me, so first floor, is you’re getting this bridge, you’re getting this bridge between these people, the scientists who can sit here and speak all these really cool sciency language and everything like that. But then you take something that’s so much more consumable to the everyday person, and they can be involved in science as well. It even stretches even further on that even to like the social justice realm, where we have indigenous communities who are out and worried that noticing, you know, because they treat the land and the animals a lot more respectfully than, you know, a super westernized culture does, you know, in general. So they have a lot better pulse on what’s happening in an ecosystem. And then they can say, I’m noticing the moose around the land are acting weird or something, and they have access to a tool, like what Lisa’s company makes, they can be out in the field scanning things or doing something like that. And that also provides this it’s, it’s empowering, that, you know, and other people around the globe, so it’s not just the white savior complex, or being like, Oh, come to your area. And let me preach to you about how everything you’re doing is, you know, save the whales and everything like that, that we’re having this, this big bridge between these, these communities. And that is one technology can do for us. So I think that’s so cool. You know, everything that Lisa is working on and other technology companies like that.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:24:09
Yeah, I mean.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:24:28
I’m so glad you brought that Tara. And I think, you know, I’m thinking even, like so I’m heading off to Kenya now in two weeks to go help out with some Scout detection dogs that are supposed to be finding cheetahs, Scott. And this organization is on an incredibly tight budget. I’m volunteering my I’m donating my time for six weeks for them and you know, if they could fundraise for something like this, you know, I know a big issue that they’ve got it right now is that a cup one of their dogs in particular is finding a lot of character Scout instead of cheetah scout. And yeah, like a tool like this, if they could buy one, the Nabbit, then they could save some more money on accidentally storing shipping sending in these Kara call scouts and then paying for the for analysis that they don’t need. They’re on such a tight budget. And I know like canine conservationists would probably buy one of those and when I’m not gonna say never, but like, it is not in our 10 year plan to have a genetics lab as part of our organization.

Misa 1:25:35
And it shouldn’t have to be either, right, like, right. Now, first of all, that’s really amazing that you are donating your time. And you know, that’s what I love about the conservation community is that there’s so many people that they just didn’t care like you. There’s no limit of passion. Everyone who does this is very passionate and very driven, and they’re willing to hustle for the sake of you know what these real problems are. So thank you so much for doing that. And you know, as soon as we have something ready to go, I’ll let you know. And we’re always looking for fields. And oh my gosh, so of course that’s established. And yes, please come check us out conservation x labs.com. And, you know, I’m happy to answer any questions that have to do with it. But it’s not like right yet. We’re getting there. We’re getting real close.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:26:25
But the interview went and followed you on Instagram and Twitter. That was what I was doing. I was following you on Twitter. Yeah. So I think we’re gonna do one last just fun question. If you guys are ready for it. Do you have anything else that we wanted to bring up or circle back to anything else I didn’t ask that we should have talked about before. We’ve got our last fun question.

Tara 1:26:51
I need to cut myself off because like you said, Kayla is gonna go on. So

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:26:56
I will. We are certainly going to have to do a repeat.

Misa 1:27:01
We are down. Yeah, no, we’re totally good. We can do our last question and wrap it up.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:27:05
Yeah. Okay. So tell me your best, worst, most memorable poop experiences.

Tara 1:27:17
Oh, man, so I told you about my cow story. Like I got to I don’t know. Yeah, I stuck my arm up a bunch of cow butts. And it was like the coolest thing ever. Again. You know? Kudos to the cows. They were excellent sports. Anyway, so yeah, they were still sweet. Um, my very memorable. Oh, oh. Oh, it is hard to pick one. Okay, I’m gonna go with this one. My very favorite book to work with hands down. Favorite love. It is so amazing. Sage crests? It is a bird like a ground bird right here. It’s

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:28:04
like a weird way to chicken. Yeah.

Tara 1:28:08
Now Yeah, it’s in the scrub habitat which has sagebrush everywhere. And their poop smells like sage. It is so aromatherapy and like I just love working with it. You’re just like in this spa? Like such a nice break from all the regular shit smells.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:28:25
I mean, people are putting snail snail slime on their faces Can we can we monetize this and use this for conservation?

Tara 1:28:34
That’s my favorite. So sage grouse

Misa 1:28:37
mean like, it’s like about monetizing it like the amount of bunny fur we would get out of a wolf poop. Like if we could like sanitize that on some level like it should definitely be reused for something

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:28:48
totally renewable resource you can’t if you’re chopped down if you burn the sage, the whole sage brush there’s no sage grouse list. We can’t have our fancy sage grouse poop. Yeah, exactly. I think we society, I guess we have to leverage it. I mean Okay, okay, Mesa, go ahead. We really need to cut this off. We’re off the rails.

Misa 1:29:18
So my favorite was always bear. The bear is like a gamble. It’s like roulette. So you know, because bears are omnivores, right. So they can have blood meals rarely eat, you know, another animal or especially in the spring and the summer they can have berry meals, because they love huckleberries and things like that. And so literally we would have these poops that we would open up and it would smell like jam or pie and like there’s like literally no other poop smell to it. Just like you almost have like start salivating while you’re sitting there trying to be like, I should not be salivating right now. One other thing now. Yes. And then one other thing too is like I remember one time I was working with some elephant poop and we wouldn’t get like a whole bunch of it we would get like just like a few golf balls of big elephant poop. But once I found this like whole beetle, like this girl beetle, like so, you know, these are African elephants. And it was like perfectly like this beetle, you know, just got accidentally eaten. It made it all the way through. You know, I mean, it wasn’t alive, but it was very intact, and I was very impressed. That’s amazing.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:30:36
Live that elephant, just munched like, you know, this whole branch. This whole house? Yeah, actually, it’s funny. So I used to I worked at the Cheyenne Mountain zoo for a summer and I worked with the hippos and they ate quite a bit of like fruits and veggies, but when they had a particularly alfalfa II poop, sometimes it smelled really nice. It smelled like I grew up in a really agrarian community. And it’s it smelled like haying season. It was so it was so funny. It wasn’t

Misa 1:31:11
oops, yeah, because they just very grassy and elephants the same way. Just say grassy. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:31:15
yeah, yeah, it’s not that bad. Which is nice. Because I mean, when I worked that job, I think we were filling. You know, like the big industrial trash bins. We were filling like two or three of those a day for just two hippos. Wild and they poop in the water. So you have to like Drain the drain the pond, and then like shovel up always like, Oh my God. Yeah. Zookeepers? I don’t know how you do it. I didn’t know I don’t think this is for me. I’m gonna work with poop in an entirely different way. Okay, so where do you want to be found on the internet? Where Where can people track you down if they want to hear more from you. Learn more about what you do.

Misa 1:32:04
Yeah, so you can find me on Instagram at conservationist underscore MISA. And it’s m Isa. It’s like Lisa with an M. That’s my professional one. I don’t post nearly enough, but I tend to highlight a lot of stuff conservation excellence is doing. And they are also on Instagram at conservation X labs. Yeah, that’s where you can find me. You can email me as well. Misa at conservation X labs that org. I’m always happy to field questions and here’s gonna say or share stories. Yeah, come find me.

Tara 1:32:36
My Instagram is Tara Dactyl Soros. You know, Tara Dactyl, but it’s my name Ta ra than Dactyl.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:32:45
Okay. Well, you know, if people want to find you, well, we’ll we’ll share all that info in the show notes. And again, thank you both so much for coming on. This was the most fun I’ve ever had talking about poop. And I’ve had some fun conversations before.

Misa 1:33:05
Oh, thank you. Yeah, it’s a pleasure for us. 100%.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:33:08
Yeah. And to our listeners who are still here. Thank you for still being here. I hope you’re feeling inspired to get out and be a canine conservationist and whatever way suits your passions and skill set. Today, maybe maybe you should go organize a poop pickup day at your favorite park. In honor of all of this. You can find the show notes. Find Tara and B says links and all of that good stuff as well as donate to Canine conservationists and join our Patreon learning club book club video club all that good stuff over at Canine conservationists dot word until next time.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:34:00
Are you on Patreon yet? If you love this podcast and want to support it in the long term, Patreon is the way to go. I spend hours per episode researching guests writing out questions, recording interviews, posting on Patreon to engage with our patrons about all of those, cleaning up the audio and putting together all of the promotional materials. Even with the help of volunteers. This is an enormous task that takes up a ton of my time. And right now I’m not paid for it. For just $3 a month you can support the show while also gaining access to our exclusive detection dog training video help calls which happened once a month or alerting club calls which are currently quarterly but I’m hoping to move to monthly and a lot more. You can join the fun over at patreon.com/canine conservationist or using the link in our show notes. You also may want to share this with anyone else you know who is interested in getting involved in the field of conservation detection dogs because this is hands down the lowest cost way to get as much mentoring and assistance and joining the community of other professional and aspiring conservation detection dog handlers and you’re gonna really enjoy it see you there

Transcribed by https://otter.ai