Canopy Camera Trapping: Heightening Our Knowledge of Arboreal Mammals

Post provided by FARAH CARRASCO-RUEDA and TREMAINE GREGORY

We wanted to test whether arboreal mammals were using natural canopy bridges – connections between tree branches over a clearing – to travel over a natural gas pipeline in the Peruvian Amazon. The challenge was figuring out how to monitor branches 100 feet up in the tree tops. In this case, the clearing was a 30-foot-wide pipeline path, and we expected arboreal mammals – like monkeys, squirrels and porcupines – to prefer crossing on the branches rather than on the ground. The ground is an unfamiliar and often dangerous place for an animal that’s spent its life way up in the canopy.

The path captured by the camera.

The yellow arrow shows the path captured by the camera trap.

In fact, we wondered if without branches, would arboreal mammals cross at all? How could we find out if animals were using the branches? There were 13 canopy bridges and finding a person to sit and wait all day (and night) under each of them for animals to cross wasn’t an option. With our goal of a year’s worth of monitoring, we had a conundrum. We needed a more efficient way to gather the data and concluded that camera traps – motion sensitive cameras – could be an excellent way to monitor the bridges continuously and remotely.

But, we discovered that no one had ever really used camera traps in the high canopy before. How were we going to get them all the way up there? If we were able to get up to the canopy, how could we make sure they were taking photos of the correct points where animals would potentially cross? Continue reading