The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is typically thought of as a denizen of midwest states and the Big Ten Conference. But this muscular, burrowing predator can also be found in the grasslands of San Diego County.
Badgers are known to range over wide areas, often making movements of 6 miles or more per day. So, badgers are a suitable species to study how wild animals move across the open habitats and grasslands of San Diego County -- and whether these habitats are being disconnected and fragmented due to human influence.
But to map out the movements and habitat use of San Diego badgers, USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientists needed a little canine help.
Over the past few weeks, WERC researchers Robert Fisher, Cheryl Brehme and their San Diego Field Station colleagues called in the assistance of Pips, an Australian cattle dog trained to detect badger scent and badger scat.
Pips and his human partner, Heath Smith, are from the Conservation Canines program at the University of Washington. This canine corps has assisted wildlife researchers around the world, helping track species spanning tigers, killer whales, reindeer, giant armadillos, to even Pacific pocket mice.
"This method is advantageous in that large areas can be surveyed in relatively little time for badger scat," says Brehme. "Wherever Pips detected badger scent, we recorded that GPS location, the habitat and vegetation community, any other potential badger sign observed in that area." Brehme's team collaborated with the Western Tracking Institute for identifying badger sign, such as burrows, tracks and digs.
Researchers also collected any scat detected, which can be used for DNA analysis that verifies the species and can reveal the genetic relationship of badger populations in San Diego County.
WERC led the badger study as part of the San Diego Connectivity Monitoring Strategic Plan in partnership with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and with assistance from the California Department of Fish and Game.
-- Ben Young Landis
Top Image: American badgers are adapted to dig burrows. Image courtesy of National Park Service.
Middle Image: Pips at work in the field. Image courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune/Charlie Neuman.
Pips and Heath Smith working the fields of Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego County. Image courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune/Charlie Neuman.