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Camera-shy wildlife and habituation: behavioral response to TrailMaster 1550 camera-traps

Eric S. Abelson (Stanford University)


Remotely triggered cameras (camera-traps) have long been used by wildlife biologists to gain insight into wildlife ecology. From establishing species presence/absence to studying feeding ecology, camera traps are a powerful field-biology tool. However, there has been much conjecture, and little scientific research, addressing possible detection biases caused by wildlife response to the camera units themselves. Traditional camera-trapping methodologies employ 35mm film cameras; these cameras, when activated, emit noise and produce visible light that may alter wildlife behavior. I have, in previous work at Jasper Ridge, monitored a ubiquitous camera trap, the TrailMaster (TM) 1550, with a silent and minimally invasive quasi-video technology (Reconyx camera-trap system).

This project provided insight into behavioral responses of wildlife. In the first phase, the Reconyx system photographed animals for two months and recorded baseline visitation frequencies and behaviors. In the second phase TM units were set up, within the field of view of the Reconyx cameras, for two months. Reconyx images were analyzed for differences in visitation frequency between phases I and II. Results from this study found that deer significantly reduced visitation, and the total amount of time spent, in areas where TM units were set up. 

Currently, I am examining the effects of removing TM camera systems that have been on the landscape for many years; having longstanding TM sites provided an opportunity for wildlife to become habituated to the systems. At three sites, where TM units had been for several years, Reconyx cameras were set-up so that they could observe the TM units (reversing the above protocol). After two months the TM units were removed and the Reconyx cameras watchedthe area for an additional year. With these data I hope to examine if deer visitation increases after the removal of longstanding TM stations or if species become habituated and visit

Example of a Reconyx image from Jasper Ridge