A Reverse-Engineering Approach to Identifying Which Compounds to Bioassay for Signalling Activity in the Scent Marks of African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus)

  • Peter AppsEmail author
  • Lesego Mmualefe
  • J. Weldon McNutt


Scent marks can potentially be used to manage the movement patterns of free-ranging mammals. We are investigating the possibility that using synthetic scent marks to create artificial range boundaries will help to keep African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) inside the safety of wildlife conservation areas. For this we need to produce synthetic scent marks, and so we need to identify which compounds among the hundreds in real scent marks are semiochemically active so that they can be formulated into the synthetic marks. Approaches that have previously been applied to locate and identify signalling compounds in mammal scent marks cannot be used on African wild dogs and so we are using “reverse-engineering” to locate and identify which compounds we should prioritise in bioassays for spatial semiochemical activity. For a compound, or a suite of compounds to be considered to be a good candidate for a spatial semiochemical role, it has to be species-specific, potentially airborne, persistent, and present in urine and not in faeces. We have used GC-MS to identify 102 components of African wild dog urine, faeces, and preputial tufts. Most of the major components are carboxylic acids and other compounds that are ubiquitous in mammal scents. Eighty-three of the identified components are poor candidates as single compound spatial semiochemicals because they also occur in other mammals that are sympatric with wild dogs. Four components from wild dog urine, pyridine, N,N-dimethylacetamide, propanamide, and ­1-methylimidazole-5-carboxaldehyde, meet the design criteria for spatial semiochemicals. These compounds are priority candidates for testing in artificial scent marks.


Scent Mark Signalling Compound Spotted Hyaena Preputial Gland Priority Candidate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are extremely grateful to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation for its funding of this research; the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, for permission to conduct research in Botswana under research permit number EWT 3/3/8 XXIV (71), and to the Restek Corporation for supplying columns and consumables. Wild dog samples were collected by research assistants at BPCT: L. Pfefo, M. Sarefo and B. Sango; leopard, cheetah, and hyaena samples were collected by A. Stein, F. Broekhuis, G. Cozzi, and R. Jackson.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Apps
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lesego Mmualefe
    • 1
  • J. Weldon McNutt
    • 1
  1. 1.Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Laboratory for Wildlife ChemistryBotswana Predator Conservation TrustMaunBotswana

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