Post provided by Jennifer Moore

Each year Methods in Ecology and Evolution awards the Robert May Prize to the best paper published in the journal by an author at the start of their career. Ten Early Career Researchers made the shortlist for this year’s prize, including Jennifer Moore who is a post-doctoral associate at the University of Florida in the USA. In this interview, Jennifer shares insights on her paper ‘The potential and practice of arboreal camera trapping’.

Tell us your career stage, what you work on, your hobbies and interests

Currently, I am a post-doctoral associate at the University of Florida, as well as an independent consultant with my consulting firm, Moore Ecological Analysis and Management, LLC. My research focuses on how we can use quantitative analyses to directly inform on-the-ground conservation efforts, and this revolves around two core objectives: 1) how do we efficiently and effectively monitor wildlife populations and 2) how do we effectively manage protected areas to safeguard wildlife while mitigating threats. More specifically, I am interested in field methodologies for monitoring mammalian species, with a focus on arboreal, nocturnal, and rare species, and the use of ranger patrols in mitigating illegal activity threats and improving protected area management. Outside of my research, I enjoy traveling, hiking, and taking my retired racing greyhound, Miska, to the beach!

Jennifer Moore, visiting the canopy walkway in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda, Photo credit: Jennifer Moore

How would you pitch your article to someone if you had just 30 seconds in an elevator?

Camera traps have become an popular method for documenting wildlife species in their natural habitats over the past few decades. However, cameras placed at ground-level are not an effective methodology for documenting arboreal species, which are often missed entirely by ground cameras. To solve this problem, researchers have begun to deploy cameras in trees to record arboreal species, such as primates. The majority of arboreal camera studies have been conducted in forest environments on mammalian species, with a focus on animal behaviour or species presence/richness with an exponential growth in the number of studies published each year. Our article is the first review of arboreal camera trapping. We summarize past studies with arboreal camera traps, but also provide insights into the advantages and disadvantages of this methodology as well as the challenges to increase the efficiency of this field methodology.

Where did the idea to develop this method come from?

Because ground camera traps are commonly used, there are many review papers summarizing the use of this method, as well as papers providing insights into how to effectively and efficiently use the methodology for monitoring wildlife species. There are no similar papers for arboreal cameras traps – therefore, we decided to publish this article to bring together the current state of knowledge on the field methodology, as well as to share some of the challenges that researchers currently using arboreal camera traps have experienced and how the challenges were overcome. We are hoping this article can be used as a starting point in early planning phases of arboreal camera trapping projects to inform researchers on factors to consider when planning their studies and challenges to watch out for when deploying cameras.

 Tremaine Gregory (co-author) deploying an arboreal camera trap in Lower Urubamba, Peru, Photo credit: Diego Balbuena

What were the major challenges in developing this method? How did you overcome this?

The major challenges with arboreal camera trapping are the added dimension of height and the more complex sampling space, as compared to terrestrial camera trapping. When the authors first came together to discuss putting together a review article, we quickly realized how many unknowns still remain in the use of this methodology, as well as the difficulty in providing standardized protocols for efficiently using arboreal camera traps.

We overcame this problem by highlighting the current use of the methodology, the lessons learned by the authors, as well as key factors and trade-offs to consider and suggestions for overcoming challenges. We also provide a set of mini-guides within the appendices, with more detailed information on important topics such as camera mounts, climbing protocols and safety, non-climbing methods for deploying cameras, and managing animal interference.

How do you plan to apply the method you published/what have you been working on since its publication?

Since this article was published, I have been continuing to deploy arboreal cameras across a collection of national parks in Africa. These projects are primarily focused on species presence/richness as well as factors that explain these metrics. In addition, I am interested in factors that increase the detection of arboreal species by arboreal cameras and the effect of placing multiple cameras at different heights within the same tree on detection.

Understanding the effect of these different factors helps to increase the efficiency of these methods for monitoring wildlife communities. Lastly, I am working on a project quantifying the additional information on wildlife species (i.e., occupancy and detection) that is learned from deploying ground and arboreal cameras in tandem, versus solely placing ground cameras in sites with multiple arboreal species, such as primates.

L’hoest monkey (Allochrocebus lhoesti) captured on an arboreal camera trap in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda, Photo credit: Wildlife Conservation Society – Rwanda Program.

Who will benefit from your method?

Arboreal camera trapping will benefit researchers, managers, and wildlife!

This methodology provides us further insights into wildlife communities that are often difficult to detect and study. Using cameras, we can document the presence of arboreal species (sometimes for the first time!), which are often missed by terrestrial camera trapping, as well as their behaviour and interactions with other species. The information on species presence, distribution, and behaviour gained from this technology allows us to better protect these species and their habitats.

Central African oyan (Poiana richardsonii) captured on an arboreal camera trap in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda, Photo credit: Wildlife Conservation Society – Rwanda Program.

If you could travel back in time, would you add to or change anything about your method?

Deploying camera traps within the trees has been fascinating. In some cases, arboreal cameras are contributing the first photos of some rare arboreal species, as well as providing photographic proof of species presence in areas thought to be outside of their range. Therefore, there isn’t anything I would change about the method; however, deployment techniques can be refined as use increases to make them more efficient in answering various research questions.

There is still plenty to learn about wildlife and their habitats especially within the canopy!

You can read Jennifer’s full paper here

and learn more about the Robert May Prize 2022 shortlist here.