Dr. Mary E. Cablk

Associate Research Professor Biology
canine detection, detection, K9, cadaver, olfaction, remote sensing, landscape, DOD, GIS, spatial pattern

Professional Interests

Dr. Cablk and K9My research is about resolving complexity to elicit pattern responses through background and noise, and there are two primary scientific tracks of interest: odor detection and landscape change. Within these interests my research is almost entirely applied and is done as experimental field work. One of the greatest joys this work is resolving the challenges of integrating and fusing data from disparate sources – such as digital camera data, GPS data, and behavioral response data – to find and explain pattern in complexity. Below is a brief overview of my ongoing research interests within these two arenas.

Odor detection – Olfaction is a powerful sense that can be used in applications where vision, hearing, or feeling (tactile response) fails. My research into detection dogs began with investigating their ability to locate federally protected Mojave desert tortoises. The resulting DTK9 Program is unique in its scientific rigor. From this work has come expertise in converting qualitative information to quantitative data and data capture methods, analytical approaches to validate capability, and training, testing and deployment protocols that are suitable for sensitive targets in extreme environments. Recent applications include different target classes for archaeology and law enforcement. As a result of this work I have also developed an interest in the behavioral science of detection. The role humans play as part of a dog team is significant and the human mindset can significantly affect a dog’s and the team’s capability.

Landscape Change and Human Impact - Conducting extensive field work over the past 20-plus years has been one of my primary means to explore and quantify the changing nature of the natural world - how individuals, populations, and communities of creatures interact and interface with a variable landscape. Much of my research has focused on military applications and resource management on federal lands using remote sensing, GIS, and subsequent tools designed to gather spatially explicit field data. My research on change has included training impacts, wildlife applications, water demands, urbanization, fire policy, and climate change. Field experience on military installations, managed federal lands, and in designated wilderness has brought to light a controversial but very real set of observations: there are parallels between military landscapes and wilderness. This is an area that I am now exploring further. In bridging disciplines, my hope is to better evaluate the impacts that humans have on the natural world and the processes involving or driven by these factors.

Research Areas of Interest and Expertise

  • Remote sensing
  • Spatial modeling and pattern analysis
  • Landscape change, particularly anthropomorphic impacts
  • K9 Detection
    • wildlife
    • human remains
    • capability assessment
    • standards and performance metrics
  • Environmental management challenges on federal (esp. military) lands and wilderness
  • Wildlife studies

Recent Projects


Ph.D. 1997 Forest Resources, College of Forestry Forest Resources, College of Forestry
M.E.M. 1991 Duke University Resource Ecology, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
B.S. 1989 Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University Biology

Academic Affiliations

  • Graduate Faculty Standing, Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada Reno

Community Service

Publications & Presentations


Cablk, M. E., Miller, J. J., Etyemezian, V. R. (2016). Wildfire Mitigation and Monitoring Strategies for the NNSS (draft)
Cablk, M. E., Miller, J. J., Mizell, S. A. (2016). Comparing Playa Inundation Estimates from Landsat and LiDAR Data to a Doppler Radar-based Hydrologic Model, In Military Geosciences and Desert Warfare: Past Lessons and Modern Challenges
Miller, J. J., Fenstermaker, L. F., Etyemezian, V. R., Chen, L., Cablk, M. E., McDonald, E. V. (2016). Mojave Fire Studies: year one (draft)


Cablk, M. E. (2014). Experiencing nature in militarized landscapes: If a bomb drops in the desert, do we still call it wilderness?, Eds. Harmon, R. S., Baker, S. E., McDonald, E. V., In Military Geosciences in the Twenty-First Century: Geological Society of America Reviews in Engineering Geology, Geological Society of America, In Press
Ziffer-Berger, J., Weisberg, P. J., Cablk, M. E., Osem, Y. (2014). Spatial patterns provide support for the stress-gradient hypothesis over a range-wide aridity gradient, Journal of Arid Environments, 102, 27-33


Hershey, R. L., Cablk, M. E., LeFebre, K., Fenstermaker, L. F., Decker, D. L. (2013). Water-Chemistry Evolution and Modeling of Radionuclide Sorption and Cation Exchange during Inundation of Frenchman Flat Playa, Desert Research Institute
Miller, J. J., Cablk, M. E., Etyemezian, V. R., Shillito, R. M., Shafer, D. S. (2013). Monitoring Soil Erosion on a Burned Site in the Mojave-Great Basin Transition Zone; Final Report for the Jacob Fire Site
Miller, J. J., Etyemezian, V. R., Shillito, R. M., Cablk, M. E., Fenstermaker, L. F., Shafer, D. S. (2013). Monitoring Soil Erosion of a Burn Site in the Central Basin and Range Ecoregion: Final Report on Measurements at the Gleason Fire Site, Nevada


Szelagowski, E. E., Sagebiel, J. C., Cablk, M. E. (2012). Characterization of the volatile organic compounds present in the headspace of decomposing animal remains, and compared with human remains, Forensic Science International, 220, 118-125


Sagebiel, J. C., Cablk, M. E. (2011). Field capability of dogs to locate human teeth, Journal of Forensic Sciences, 56, (4), 1018-1024


Cablk, M. E., Heaton, J. S., Nussear, K. E., Esque, T. C., Medica, P. A., Sagebiel, J. C., Francis, S. S. (2008). Comparison of human versus wildlife detector dog investigator effects, Southwestern Naturalist, 53, (4), 472-479
Cablk, M. E., Sagebiel, J. C., Heaton, J. S., Valentin, C. (2008). Olfaction-based detection distance: A quantitative analysis of how far away dogs detect tortoise odor and follow it to source, Sensors, 8, (4), 2208-2222
Nussear, K. E., Esque, T. C., Heaton, J. S., Cablk, M. E., Drake, K. K., Valentin, C., Yee, J. L., Medica, P. A. (2008). Are wildlife detector dogs or people better at finding tortoises?, Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 3, (1), 103-115
Raumann, C. C., Cablk, M. E. (2008). Land-use/cover change in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California and Nevada, USA, 1940-2002, Forest Ecology and Management, 255, 3424-3439


Sharpe, S. E., Cablk, M. E., Thomas, J. M. (2007). The Walker Basin, Nevada and California: Physical Environment, Hydrology, and Biology
Zhu, Z., Young, M. H., Cablk, M. E. (2007). Uncertainty Analysis of Estimates of Ground-Water Discharge by Evapotranspiration for the BARCAS Study Area


Cablk, M. E., Heaton, J. S. (2006). Accuracy and reliability of dogs in surveying for desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), Ecological Applications, 16, (5), 1926-1935


Minor, T. B., Cablk, M. E. (2004). . Estimation of Impervious Cover in the Lake Tahoe Basin Using Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems Data Integration, Journal of Nevada Water Resources Association, 1, (1), 58-75


Minor, T. B., Cablk, M. E. (2003). Detecting and discriminating impervious cover with high-resolution IKONOS data using principal component analysis and morphological operators, International Journal of Remote Sensing, 24, (23), 4627-4645