World's Largest Camera Trap Study Reveals Declining Mammal Populations (Photos)


Central Suriname Nature Reserve, Suriname. Panthera Onca (Jaguar), a near threatened species. Of the sites researched, this one presented the highest number of species diversity. This image is one of nearly 52,000 photos of 105 mammal species, taken as part of the first global camera trap mammal study done by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Courtesy of Conservation International Suriname.

Researchers have revealed results of a global camera trap study that has captured nearly 52,000 images. Camera traps placed in seven protected areas in the Americas, Africa and Asia have documented 105 species ranging from mice to elephants -- and even varieties of humans from tourists to poachers. The study has also helped solidify reasons for mammal decline, including habitat encroachment and smaller wildlife reserves. Check out more images from the camera traps and the vulnerable and endangered species it captured.
Volcan Barva, Costa Rica. Puma concolor (Cougar). This image is one of nearly 52,000 photos of 105 mammal species, taken as part of the first global camera trap mammal study done by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Courtesy of Conservation International Suriname.

According to Conservation International, "Analysis of the photographic data has helped scientists confirm a key conclusion that until now, was understood through uncoordinated local study: habitat loss and smaller reserves have a direct and detrimental impact on the diversity and survival of mammal populations."

It's not a surprise, of course, but hard evidence could help environmental groups push for stronger regulations and enforcement of those regulations from governments where wildlife is most impacted.

The study, published in the article "Community structure and diversity of tropical mammals: data from a global camera trap network", in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, looked at protected areas in Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Laos, Suriname, Tanzania and Uganda. It is the largest camera trap study ever done, and the first international one.


Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Pan troglodytes (Common chimpanzee), an endangered species. This image is one of nearly 52,000 photos of 105 mammal species, taken as part of the first global camera trap mammal study done by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Courtesy of Conservation International Suriname.

The study was no small feat. 420 cameras were set up, with 60 camera traps on each site. Placed every 2 sq km for one month at each site, the traps documented animals from 2008 to 2010.

After sorting the information and analyzing the species in the photographs, the researchers "found that larger protected areas and continuous forests tend to contain three similar attributes: (1) a higher diversity of species; (2) a greater variety of animal sizes, including populations of larger mammals, and (3) a greater variety of diets among those mammals (insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores)."


Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Gorilla beringei beringei (Mountain Gorilla), an endangered species. This image is one of nearly 52,000 photos of 105 mammal species, taken as part of the first global camera trap mammal study done by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Courtesy of Conservation International Suriname.

"The results of the study are important in that they confirm what we suspected: habitat destruction is slowly but surely killing our planet's mammal diversity" said Dr. Ahumada. "We take away two key findings from this research. First, protected areas matter: the bigger the forest they live in, the higher the number and diversity of species, body sizes and diet types. Second, some mammals seem more vulnerable to habitat loss than others: insect-eating mammals -- like anteaters, armadillos and some primates, are the first to disappear -- while other groups, like herbivores, seem to be less sensitive."


Central Suriname Nature Reserve, Suriname. Tayassu pecari (White-lipped Pecari) - a near threatened species. This image is one of nearly 52,000 photos of 105 mammal species, taken as part of the first global camera trap mammal study done by The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network. Courtesy of Conservation International Suriname.

Mammals are an indispensable part of ecosystems. From regulating plant growth to regulating populations of other species, mammals are a must. However, our encroachment on habitat is undeniably sending many species into a spiral. This latest study by TEAM hopes to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that humans are the cause of decline. By creating bigger, more protected reserves, alleviating the poverty and hunger that drives people to poaching, and improving our methods for harvesting resources such as timber and food, we can perhaps keep some of the endangered and threatened species shown in the camera traps from disappearing altogether.

TEAM is working on keeping camera traps up and running as a way to continually monitor the health of mammal species. Currently there are 17 camera traps hard at work.

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Tags: Animals | Conservation

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