Use of olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

What the nose doesn't know helps wildlife: Use olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

Land-nesting shore birds such as the two-striped buzzard are vulnerable to invasive terrestrial predators in New Zealand, including cats, hedgehogs and ferrets. Olfactory signs can help wildlife managers reduce the predation of these predators to protect populations. Credit: Grant Norbury

Animals – both herbivores and predators – follow their noses for a wide range of food sources. The principle applies to hunters who are trying to catch easy prey, or grazers who are looking for the richest plants.

Behavioral ecologists have now found a way to harness the olfactory ability of animals to protect vulnerable plants and endangered animals. In a new study published in the Journal of the Environmental Society of America Boundaries in ecology and the environmentCatherine Price, an environmentalist at the University of Sydney, presented a practical and theoretical framework that sheds light on how animals use their sense of smell about finding food and how wildlife managers can use odors to deter unwanted predation.

People have used such tactics for thousands of years. Gardeners plant marigolds and chrysanthemums to discourage bugs and rabbits, and people light citronella or spray garlic around their yards to deter mosquitoes. Why this works, however, is still something of a mystery.

“It is only now that we are beginning to discover the mechanism by which these methods work and to identify important volatile substances in aromas“Price said.” We are beginning to divide the ecological basis of sense of smell and to understand how animals use smell and why they behave the way they do – and how we can use that knowledge to save kinds and protection of ecosystems. “

What the nose doesn't know helps wildlife: Use olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

Bush stone curls are one of the first types of Dr. Researched price. They are well masked visually. Olfactory camouflage can help protect them from foxes and other predators in Australia. Credit: Andrew Lothian

The role of the sense of smell in the animal kingdom has sometimes been overlooked, perhaps because humans no longer hunt by smell. Scientists have studied the marking of aromas and territorial protection, as well as the effects of odor on mating behavior, but not much research has been done on how animals use odor to find food.

Price’s paper, which has been in the making for more than a decade, examines how animals use their sense of smell to find food and how to circumvent the process to reduce predation. Methods include masking the smell of a food source (such as seeds, eggs, or an animal you are trying to protect) by concealing its scent or spreading a similar scent throughout the landscape to train a hunter or herdsman to ignore a certain odor when hunting for food.

“It’s about hiding the food we don’t want to eat – an endangered bird or plant – that we don’t want to eat, it’s hard for them to find. They have other, easier food options, so don’t worry about looking for what we’re trying to protect. “

Price and her team literally tested her theory by putting chicken flavor in Vaseline and spreading it to thousands of acres of endangered coastal birds. As the smell appeared in front of the birds and because it was everywhere and so was not a useful clue to find dinner, ferrets and grenades left the nests of coastal birds alone. Predation in the nests decreased by more than 50 percent, an effect that lasted a month.

“You can compare it to camouflage – we just hide things from the naked eye,” Price said. “Foragers use smell to find things, and when they can’t find it in all the background smells, they’ll start looking for something else.

In the experiments conducted so far it is used olfactory signs as protection costs approximately the same as other methods – including fences, deadly predator control methods and other deterrents – but is more effective, more sustainable and not burdened with animal welfare concerns.

  • What the nose doesn't know helps wildlife: Use olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

    Invasive predators, including hedgehogs and ferrets, threaten New Zealand’s coastal birds, such as the South Island oyster, which evolved without the threat of mammalian egg thieves. Olfactory misinformation helps protect nesting colonies from predators and ensures that more nests survive. Credit: Grant Norbury

  • What the nose doesn't know helps wildlife: Use olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

    Invasive hedgehogs love an easy snack of eggs from a coastal bird nesting colony. Olfactory misinformation can help find eggs harder by encouraging hedgehogs to look for easier food sources. Credit: Grant Norbury

  • What the nose doesn't know helps wildlife: Use olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species

    New Zealand coastal birds have evolved without worrying about mammalian predators like this invasive ferret. Olfactory signs help to hide eggs and protect against predation. Credit: Grant Norbury

“Working with the animal’s motivation for food is important,” Price said. “That’s why it’s different from other strategies like fences and other deterrents. That’s why they don’t work often.”

When wildlife managers remove predators from the population, they cannot guarantee that they have defended something. A fox can wreak havoc on a coastal bird colony overnight. Olfactory control also allows managers to focus only on problematic or invasive predators, leaving local predators in an unaffected ecosystem.

More practical on-site studies are needed to test the scope, methods and specificity of olfactory signs in ecosystems, but early results are encouraging.

“There’s still a lot to understand,” Price said. “But it’s a new, powerful tool to add to the set of wildlife managers.”


Invasive hedgehogs and ferrets get used to and categorize odors


More info:
Catherine Price et al., Olfactory Misinformation: Creating “Fake News” to Reduce the Problem of Wildlife Demand, Boundaries in ecology and the environment (2022). DOI: 10.1002 / fee.2534

Quote: What the nose doesn’t know helps wildlife: Using olfactory signs to protect vulnerable species (2022, June 21), retrieved June 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06 -nose-doesnt-wildlife-olfactory – cues.html

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