Research published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, suggests that camera traps may not be as discrete as previously thought, with feral cats often seen walking up and stopping to look at a camera trap, while some wild dogs and foxes were found to reverse their direction of travel when noticing and hearing them.
Invasive Animals CRC researcher and Invasive Species Officer for the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Paul Meek said “our results suggest we might not be getting the full picture about pest animal behaviour that we thought we were”.
“Camera traps are revered globally as an excellent use of innovation, they can improve our knowledge about pest animal behaviour, assist in guiding management programs and open up doors to data and information we never had before – however with any relatively new form of technology there are always issues surrounding their use.”
“Over a four year period, we set out to identify any potential issues associated with using camera trap technology. We knew from previous research published in 2014 that camera traps do in fact make noise and produce visible light which animals can detect, but we also wanted to assess what impact this had on their awareness of the technology,” Mr Meek said.
The research team found wild dogs, feral cats, European foxes and native spotted-tailed quolls all exhibited behaviours indicating they noticed and were aware of the camera traps.
“There was some evidence to suggest that predators were sensing the camera trap before the animal moved into frame, that is, just an ear and eye photographed and no following images. This is important because if an animal is affected by the presence of a camera trap and displays ‘shyness’, then many of the repeat measure methods used in measuring populations may be confounded,” Mr Meek said.
The research team emphasises that their work is not suggesting to avoid using camera traps but to acknowledge the issues with their use, particularly in relation to estimates of abundance that are based on all animals having an equal opportunity to be captured by a camera trap.
“Failure to detect an individual or misidentifying an animal in an abundance study can lead to adverse ecological decision making.
“We are concerned that potential error in abundance estimators caused by the detection of and responses to camera traps by animals has been largely overlooked in the literature and we want to delve further into this,” Mr Meek finished by saying.
The research team now plan to assess the impact of camera traps over a longer period of time and want to understand if animals could become conditioned to the camera or if they will always respond in the same way.