With biodiversity loss being a driving force to ecosystem change, it is important that scientists find ways to globally monitor wildlife so they can understand and mitigate the effects of changing ecosystems around the world. A new study involving the use of camera traps has demonstrated that this is one of the most effective ways to monitor and study the wildlife present in a given area. The study findings were published online in Global Ecology and Biogeography.
For the study, researchers from various universities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations around the world studied camera traps that were set up in 12 countries. These cameras are typically attached to trees or fence posts. They work by using heat-sensing technology and motion detection to capture images of animals as they pass by the camera’s field of vision, day and night, rain or shine. Time and date stamps for each image let researchers know which animals are in the area and when they are on the move.
The data captured by the cameras was collected during previous studies. Researchers involved in the new study compiled and reviewed this data in an effort to evaluate changes, both fine and broad-scale that impacts 96 mammalian carnivore species, a few of which included Sumatran tigers and Arctic foxes.
Lindsey Rich, the lead researcher with Virginia Tech said examining the images collected using the camera traps was a labor-intensive process, as tens of thousands of images were collected and each one had to be classified by species. Following the compilation of data, an occupancy-modeling framework was used to find the probability of a specific carnivore occupying each area. In addition, researchers tried to determine how each species was affected by human influence, the availability of prey, and characteristics of their habitat.
The research supported an ecological principle – that regardless of the geographic region and landscape differences, fundamentally, prey availability determines the distribution of carnivores. The research further proved that populations of carnivores are affected by human influence and development.
The study revealed that across the majority of areas studied, carnivores were more apt to live in areas that had a greater abundance of prey. In addition, research revealed that carnivores were more likely to live in areas that are protected and farther away from roadways such as national parks.
Rich said she and her co-authors used the best data available from camera traps at the time for their research. However, she added that in the future, a global network collecting similar data could standardize methods to improve additional study, including additional variables such as water availability, vegetation, and human development. Standardized methods would allow researchers to look at different species and the changes that occur over longer periods of time.
By Trixie Dillwood
Photo Courtesy S. Sunarto/WWF