New research by Ghent UniversityResearch has shown that dogs who are walked in the wild contribute a significant amount of nutrients to the environment via their urine and feces. This can have a negative effect on the local biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
The researchers looked at four nature reserves near Ghent in Belgium. According to the researchers, each year, urine and dog feces add an average of 11kg and 5kg respectively of nitrogen and phosphorous per hectare. The total nitrogen addition to most of Europe via agriculture and fossil fuel emissions is 5-25kg per hectare.
Although it may sound good to add nutrients to natural reserve to increase plant growth, this is usually only for a few nutrient-demanding species of plants. These plants could then outcompete many other plants, thereby reducing biodiversity.
Many nature reserves have a management strategy that aims to lower soil nutrient levels and increase animal and plant biodiversity. This can be achieved by mowing or hay removal. Pieter de Frenne, a Ghent University expert on Global Change Ecology, stated that our findings suggest that the current neglected inputs of dogs to nature reserves could delay restoration efforts.
We were shocked at how high the nutrient inputs of dogs can be. Atmospheric nitrogen inputs from agriculture, industry and traffic rightfully receive a lot of policy attention, but dogs are entirely neglected in this respect.”
Professor De Frenne and colleagues claim that keeping dogs on leashes would reduce fertilization rates in the majority of the reserves, but increase them in small areas around paths. This could lead to inputs of as much as 175 kg of nitrogen and 73kg phosphorous per hectare.
However, fertilization levels could be decreased by 56 percent if the owners pick their dogs’ feces. This is true for nitrogen as well as 97 percent in the case for phosphorous.
These results show that managers and policy makers must consider the current neglected nutrient inputs from dogs in their management plans. They should also convince dog owners to collect their feces regularly to reduce their negative impact on biodiversity.
The journal published the study. Ecological Solutions and Evidence.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.comStaff Writer