Barking up the Right Tree

“Timber Dogs” Are Saving the Southern Pine

Labrador Retrievers are doing their part to save the Southern pine.

“The Timber Dogs are Labradors who have been trained to find root-infesting fungi, which can lead to decline and premature mortality (of pine trees),” explained Dr. Lori Eckhart, an Auburn University faculty member and a researcher with the EcoDog program. “The Timber Dogs have found infected roots two feet below the soil line, as well as in areas where it is not expected to be present.”

Charm and Opie, both Labrador Retrievers, were originally trained as explosive-detection dogs. They had such an excellent track record for their detection capabilities that they were both recruited to expand their sniffing capabilities and start to work toward detecting fungus roots attacking Southern pine trees.

When pine trees are stressed due to any number of reasons, such as drought or wildfire, they release an odor that attracts beetles. Beetles then attack the roots of the pine tree, allowing fungus to invade the tree system and frequently resulting in “Southern pine decline.”

There are various ways of combating disease in the Southern pine trees, but this new method conceived by the EcoDog scientists with Auburn University is much less invasive and much friendlier for the environment.

When Charm and Opie smell a fungus odor, they quietly sit as an alert, notifying their handlers. By using Timber Dogs, there is a minimal impact on the beetle population, fungus is not spread, and the land is relatively undisturbed.