Next time you dip a chip into a bowl of guacamole, you might want to pause and give thanks for dogs. A group of sensitive canine noses are being trained to help root out a fungus that is threatening Florida’s $64 million avocado crop. It is the country’s second largest, next to California.
Scientists have compared this effort to the use of dogs for tumor detection in humans. The truth is that the fungus, laurel wilt, is as deadly to trees as cancer is to people.
In perfect mix of old and new technology, the dogs will work in tandem with a drone to pinpoint infected trees. Flying above the grove, the drones’ specialized cameras identify areas where the trees appear to be under stress. The dogs follow, using their highly trained sniffers to confirm if laurel wilt, which is carried into the trees by the Redbay Ambrosia Beetle, is the culprit.
The dogs-and-drones method can identify laurel wilt before outward signs appear. It is impossible save a tree once it becomes evident to human eyes that it has been infected, but with early detection farmers may save it and surrounding trees with fungicide injections.
Two Belgian Malinois and two rescues dogs are participating in the Save the Guac program, which is run by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Scientists from Florida International University and the University of Florida are conducting the study, supported by a $148,000 government grant. They are working hard to contain the spread this tree disease before it reaches the huge avocado industry in California.
Ironically, the dogs won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Avocados contain a toxin that can cause stomach upset in dogs and cats, and more serious problems in other species. So, most experts put it on the “do not eat” list for dogs.