Detection dogs show promise in finding citrus diseases

01/01/2012 01:00:00 AM
By Jerry Jackson

Scientists have yet to invent a smell detector as sensitive and practical as a dog’s wet nose.

So researchers have turned to man’s best friend for a little help in sniffing out pests, such as citrus canker, that are difficult or impossible to spot in the field.

Even the best trained human scouts looking for signs of canker on leaves, stems or fruit in trees are no match for canines and their ability to pick up the faintest of scents.

Humans have been relying on dogs for many years to find lost people, track escaped convicts, detect narcotics or contraband, trail deer and other animals for hunters. Their feats of odor detection have amazed people for millennia.

In more recent years, dogs have been recruited to sniff out termites, bedbugs, mealybugs, gypsy moth larvae, screw worms and other agricultural pests.

Now add citrus canker to the list, and, most likely, citrus greening, says Tim Gottwald, a senior scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce. Gottwald received a $50,000 grant to oversee a feasibility study for canine canker detection.

Although the research is still underway, he says the early evidence supports the concept.

“We’ve found them to be 97 to 99 percent accurate detecting canker in fields with randomized, potted trees in the ground— tests at various levels of canker,” Gottwald says. “They miss very few. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised,” he notes, based on the long history of dogs and their well-documented olfactory powers.

USDA research into canine canker detection began as early as 1999, but the work was interrupted when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shifted priorities nationwide. Security at airports, seaports and other locations took precedence, and every dog that could be drafted for the effort was rushed into service.

Now that the citrus research has resumed as a result of the USDA grant in 2010, a trio of dogs has been undergoing training and testing in a variety of settings at a citrus research site in north Florida and in Fort Pierce.

The dogs participating in the research are owned by J&K Canine Academy, a nationally recognized pest-detection and behavioral training school in Alachua County near Gainesville.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences worked with J&K Academy in the 1990s to develop teams of termite-detection dogs, capable of locating subterranean termites and other hard-tofind types.


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Johann Rossouw    
Tzaneen South Africa  |  February, 01, 2012 at 12:44 AM

I have been thinking along this route now for a couple of years, and every time I go through a customs service at an airport where dogs are used I keep wondering about "dog scouts" on citrus farms. How easy would it be to optimise exports to sensitive markets if a dog can detect a fruit infested with citrus black spot in a carton . I am going to watch this space with interest!

Pepe Peruyero    
Gainesville fl.  |  March, 17, 2013 at 07:10 PM

Just came across your comment and would to advise you that we are currently developing dogs to detect HLB and have applied to a grant for Black Spot we will be working with Meagan Dewdry with UF. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more. J&K Canine Academy Inc. 386-454-3647

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