The impact of dog excrement in natural environments revealed

When dog owners engage in leisure activities, many of them take their pets to peri-urban forests and nature reserves, but a group of Belgian researchers claim that nutrient intakes per unit of space and time in ecosystems, through dog faeces and urine, have not been sufficiently quantified.

The researchers thus carried out a study in which they estimated the net fertilization rates of dogs in peri-urban ecosystems, paying particular attention to nitrogen. (NOT) and phosphorus (P) for their effects on plant biodiversity.

They used 487 direct count censuses over a year and a half to collect accurate data on dog abundance per hectare per year at four sites in Belgium, including peri-urban forests and nature reserves.

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Based on estimated densities from dogs and a systematic literature search of nutrient concentrations in urine and faeces, they calculated N and P fertilization rates from excretion pools.

They found that the dogs’ nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization rates averaged 11 kg of nitrogen (more or less equally divided between urine and faeces) and 5 kg of phosphorus (mainly from faeces) per hectare and per year, respectively.

According to the researchers, the estimated rates of N and P fertilization for dogs in peri-urban forests and in the wild are considerable.

Such levels of nutrient inputs can significantly influence biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and co-determine restoration outcomes”they say.

According to the researchers, these results confirm the need for administrations and decision-makers to more frequently take into account the nutrient contributions produced by dogs, which are currently neglected in management plans and restoration objectives.

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The researchers also point out that dog owners should be made aware of the role of »fertilizer » of their animal and insist on the obligation to eliminate at least the solid feces of the dogs.

Finally, they conclude that in oligotrophic ecosystems (i.e. with nutrient-poor soilss) where nutrient-adapted species live, off-leash dog parks should be established nearby, the use of short leashes promoted and/or dog-number bans enforced to avoid abundance of these animals.

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