Monday, 7 November 2011

Saguaro National Preserve (National Park) – Don Swann & University of Arizona

Three days in Arizona wasn’t enough to capture the magic of the desert in this part of the US. Picture perfect weather, stunning landscapes and a smorgasbord of fauna biodiversity.  Don Swann the Biologist of Saguaro NP hosted me for three days and we had a fruitful  time discussing camera trapping and biodiversity surveys. Don has been involved in camera trapping since 1993-4 and has contributed many papers on the subject. Don’s team is working in East and West Saguaro NP on the outskirts of Tucson in Arizona carrying out biodiversity assessments. I spent most of my time with Don and Nick Perkins who is responsible for the camera trapping program.

The objective of their developing program at Saguaro is to determine species richness in all habitat types represented in the NP, these habitats are influenced by geography, geology and elevation.  Despite having used many different camera models over the years, they are using Cuddeback Capture because they are white flash and due to their simplicity and cost.  Although Don has used many different camera types over time.
Don and Nick have divided the NP into 1.6 km grids and then stratified the area according to habitat type and elevation. In each grid they have generated 6-7 random points and are sequentially placing 4 camera traps per plot for 6 weeks. Sites are passive, in fact Don did some comparisons of results from baited and non-baited sites are found no significant difference in detections. The camera traps are checked every 2 weeks.  Interestingly they place their camera traps very close to the ground (<30cm) on steel posts but have had good results.  They are interested in all fauna but record more of the medium to large sized species eg deer, mountain lion, squirrels, raccoons, black bear, jaguar, coyote and Javelina. Their objectives are purely management driven – know what you have, its status, its trend  and manage accordingly.  They also use camera traps for Biolblitz -  a citizen science program aimed at measuring biodiversity in NP. This has been a huge success for the Park and very demanding for staff.
One crazy issue Don raised was the purchasing constraints enforced in the US with goods made in China – meaning that any model of camera trap made in China can not be bought ??.  Go figure !. Making new acquisitions rather difficult.

One important subject that emerged from our discussions on camera traps and their fitness for purpose was that we as researchers need to recognise that camera traps are no different to any other survey method we use and that all approached have limitations and biases. The Key message  being “don’t see camera traps as a panacea to survey design – we will always have imperfect data it just depends on your identification of acceptable errors.

“you will never know what you never know”……………… Don Swann 2011

After two days of walking into two plots and setting camera traps we met with a crew of folk from the University of Arizona and the Sky Island Alliance team who are working in Mexico on Jaguars.  The SIA people (Sergio Avila and Jessica Lamberton) have been using camera for 10 years and their primary interest is in jaguar surveys north and south of the Mexico border. They also chose Cuddeback camera for the image quality, white flash, price, simplicity and reliability-longevity. This group is also intrinsically tied into the Citizen Science program using camera traps to monitor plots.

We also met with Lisa Haynes the Coordinator of the Wild Cat Research and Conservation Centre, she collaborates with a multitude of people working on big cats in Namibia, India and USA. One of her primary interests is in understanding the status of Mountain Lions in the Tucson Mountains. Lisa has also been using camera traps in monitoring predation of Upland Falcons and together with Jim Sanderson has just secured funding to survey jaguars along the northern border of Mexico.  Lisa has used many cameras over time but has Cuddeback Experts and Bushnell Trophycams.

Lisa mentioned a novel vandal of her Cuddebacks – apparently in her study area woodpeckers are attracted to Fresnel lens’ and she has had several pecked out.

We also briefly discussed the software program designed by Jim Sanderson who was unable to attend our meeting.  This program uses renamer and a drag and drop system to file your images. Again this software sounds like a useful option but only if you have a single target animal and don’t need to code thousands of images.  However the analysis part of the program sounds excellent.

The conversation continued over drinks and we had some invaluable thoughts about defining experimental designs and the importance of defining how people define an event in a series of detections.  We all had a range of thoughts on what defines an “event” based on the target species and the questions being studied.

On Wednesday we exchanged ideas on camera trapping training courses and Nick and Mary-Beth described the structure of their school student course.  I also gave them an overview of our NSW Dept. Primary Industries/IACRC camera trapping training course.

The NPS is doing some excellent work in Saguaro and Don had a lot of knowledge to share and I am sure we will have further communications and collaborations.

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