Invasive plants have devastating effects on ecosystems and biodiversity that early intervention can prevent. Eradication or containment of new invasions is difficult to achieve because of constraints posed by the low density and detectability of individuals. Domestic dogs trained to cue on distinctive scents might provide an effective method to detect spotted knapweed. The objective of this study was to compare the accuracy and detection distances of dogs to humans in locating new spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) invasions. Three dogs, trained to detect knapweed using scent discrimination and tracking techniques, were compared with human surveyors. Seven sampling units (0.5 ha [1.2 ac]) were delineated in a grazed dryland pasture. Dogs, with their handlers, and human surveyors performed line-transect surveys in fall 2005 and spring, summer, and fall 2006. Dog accuracy for large-size knapweed targets (infestations 0.52 m3 [18.4 ft3]) was similar to human accuracy and better than humans (94 vs. 78%) for medium-size targets (infestations 0.13m3). Dog accuracy (67%) was greater (> 81% probability) than humans (34%) for small targets (plants; 0.02 m3). Overall dog accuracy (81%) and F-measure scores (86%) were better than human scores, 59% and 74%, respectively. Human precision was greater (100%) than dogs at 94%. Dogs detected a larger percentage of small targets (80%) at distances greater than 7.9 m (26 ft) compared with humans at only 20%. Our results indicate dogs are more accurate than humans are, especially at critical detection of small spotted knapweed plants, and from greater distances. Invasive plant monitoring using detection dogs can provide greater overall accuracy of plant detection.
Nomenclature: Domestic dogs, Canis familiaris L.; spotted knapweed, Centaurea stoebe L.