If you wanted to monitor wildlife all across Alberta, how would you do it?
That’s a question that the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the University of Alberta have been looking into, and the most efficient solution we have so far is to use remote trail cameras. Trail cameras have infrared and motion sensors that trigger when an animal passes, so basically, you can put one out in the woods, come back a couple months later, and get photos of whatever creatures have walked past.
Sounds awesome, but as scientists, we worry about things like sampling bias. What about if there’s a lot of vegetation – will the camera trigger, or will it seem like there are no animals living there? Are animals more attracted to certain features, like fence lines (as opposed to placing the camera in the open)? And how do different camera brands compare? Although ecologists have already been using trail cameras in research, we don’t really know the answers to these questions. But thankfully, where there’s a question, there are usually a couple of scientists working it.
Amanda Kelley and Kate Broadly have been putting various trail cameras through their paces this summer, trying to get an understanding of what they’re capable of, and where there might be serious biases. Most if it involves taking photos of themselves, and the occasional non-target canid.
Science-dog Hannah leads the way
Amanda Kelley does her best Vanna White while testing the detectability of a camera
But we have set out some cameras on fences and open areas (in pairs), and we’ve gotten some neat (and useful!) wildlife photos from those.
Amanda Kelley apprehensively gazes into a camera box where a spider has built its nest. Hey, it’s not all fun stuff.