Use of camera traps is becoming a research standard in ecological and conservation studies. Camera traps offer a reliable, non-invasive, visual means of surveying wildlife with substantially reduced survey effort. With continued technological improvements and decreasing equipment costs, together with their demonstrated versatility, it is expected that they will become even more popular as a survey tool in the future. In addition, with dwindling budgets and reduced human resources in many of the state agencies/departments mandated with biodiversity conservation in South Africa, camera trapping may offer a more cost effective and less labor-intensive alternative to some of the current ground- or aerial-survey methods or use of full-time monitors who track and photograph target species. Furthermore, camera traps provide an opportunity to monitor cryptic and elusive wildlife species that were not previously easily monitored, are equally efficient at collecting data by day and night, and can be deployed in difficult terrain where other methods are difficult to implement.
Camera traps have already been successfully used in a myriad of projects ranging from determining species richness and diversity, to estimating population density, to spatio-temporal behavioural studies. A number of projects have used capture–recapture models to estimate abundance, but this method is limited to species that have individually unique natural markings or to those for which a sample can be individually marked prior to camera trapping. On the other hand, occupancy modelling does not require individuals to be uniquely identifiable, and therefore can be applied to a wider range of species, where occupancy can be viewed as a function of abundance and in some cases can be used as a surrogate for abundance.
Although camera trapping as a conservation tool is in its relative infancy, there have already been many projects with different objectives conducted using camera-traps; Large volumes of data have been collected, and there have been many developments both in data collection and analysis, and during the process there have been many lessons learnt.
Oral presentations in this special session will highlight the range of applications and analytical techniques used in Africa. This session will include examples of using camera-trap data for forest mammal occupancy modelling, determining conservation threats to endangered species, non-invasive survey techniques, and population distribution estimates. Additional presentations will be considered for the session – submit your abstracts for consideration online and choose the Theme – Special Session: Camera Traps – Standardised Applications for an Invaluable Ecological Research Tool.