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Scientists are looking to man’s best friend for help in the fight against rapid ohia death.

Dogs already are used to sniff out a fungus in Florida avocado trees, and researchers in Hawaii think they could be trained to detect the ohia disease before trees show symptoms.

This early detection could help contain the spread of the fungal disease and allow for treatment of individual trees, or ensure wood is safe for transport.

“If you can detect a fungus in a tree before it becomes symptomatic, you then have an opportunity to potentially treat the tree with a fungicide,” said Kealoha Kinney, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Once trees develop the tell-tale signs of rapid ohia death, also known as ohia wilt, the fungicides become less effective, he said. Symptoms include yellowish or brown leaves.

It’s not yet known how effective this approach would be or if the dogs’ snouts will be able to pick up the scent in a forest. In Florida, they are used on farms.

Kinney thinks there’s a good chance of success, and the Forest Service is partnering with other agencies on a pilot project using two or three Belgian Malinois dogs through Florida International University.

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