Camera Traps

Camera traps offer a unique glimpse into the world of mammals: data for scientists, and pictures for everyone.

I am co-founder of the eMammal project, a data management system and archive for camera trap research projects.  Camera trappers use our software to look at pictures, identify animals and upload them to the digital repository for review and archive at the Smithsonian.  These data are then useful for addressing important scientific and conservation questions.  The pictures provide a unique view into the secret word of wildlife. I am also a founding member of Wildlife Insights, where we are building the next generation camera trap data management tool with AI help from Google. 

My research with camera traps started with film cameras used to survey the carnivores of the Adirondacks of NY.  We used these data to compare survey techniques and study the interactions between carnivore species, which we found to be relatively unimportant compared to habitat factors. By 2008 digital camera traps were practical and we used them to quantify the mammal community in Panama, and to discover that rodents steal buried seeds from each other (thereby dispersing them further), and return to monitor the seeds to  help them remember where they are.  We also used camera traps to discover that that prey hiding places were hotspots of predator activity.

I have worked on a number of methodological innovations including a way to measure the area surveyed by a camera trap, a way to estimate the total daily activity level from camera trap pictures, a new statistical technique to account for species interaction and spatial autocorrelation, and automating the identification of animals from camera trap images through computer vision.

Increasingly my work with camera traps has involved working with citizen scientists to run camera traps.  The background to this work is presented in this description of the eMammal project, and led to discoveries about what animals use back yard habitat, how coyotes keep feral cats out of protected areas, the impact of dogs on wildlife, vigilance levels of deer related to humans and coyotes, and the impact  of hunting and hiking on wildlife communities.

I also wrote a book about camera trapping science around the world, using over 600 of the most amazing wildlife photographs to illustrate that work.

Canid Creatures cover

Our camera trap research along a developmental gradient found surprising abundance and diversity in suburban habitats, even back yards, as shown in this video.

Our state-wide citizen science project NC Candid Critters was one of the largest camera trap surveys ever, with over 4000 locations across all 100 counties of the state.  The interactive below gives a snapshot of those data. 

I collaborated with Dr. Stephanie Schuttler to work with school kids in North Carolina and around the world to have them run camera traps, finding they obtained useful data and amazing pictures.

We are now starting an exciting new series of projects aiming for broad scale comparisons of animal communities through a systematic sampling of NEON sites and a huge collaborative effort to sample all 50 states called Snapshot USA.   A first comparison of our NEON Sites is in the below infographic, you can find more details about each specific site here.

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