The value of citizen science for ecological monitoring of mammals

PeerJ. 2018 Mar 29;6:e4536. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4536. eCollection 2018.


Citizen science approaches are of great interest for their potential to efficiently and sustainably monitor wildlife populations on both public and private lands. Here we present two studies that worked with volunteers to set camera traps for ecological surveys. The photographs recorded by these citizen scientists were archived and verified using the eMammal software platform, providing a professional grade, vouchered database of biodiversity records. Motivated by managers' concern with perceived high bear activity, our first example enlisted the help of homeowners in a short-term study to compare black bear activity inside a National Historic Site with surrounding private land. We found similar levels of bear activity inside and outside the NHS, and regional comparisons suggest the bear population is typical. Participants benefited from knowing their local bear population was normal and managers refocused bear management given this new information. Our second example is a continuous survey of wildlife using the grounds of a nature education center that actively manages habitat to maintain a grassland prairie. Center staff incorporated the camera traps into educational programs, involving visitors with camera setup and picture review. Over two years and 5,968 camera-nights this survey has collected 41,393 detections of 14 wildlife species. Detection rates and occupancy were higher in open habitats compared to forest, suggesting that the maintenance of prairie habitat is beneficial to some species. Over 500 volunteers of all ages participated in this project over two years. Some of the greatest benefits have been to high school students, exemplified by a student with autism who increased his communication and comfort level with others through field work with the cameras. These examples show how, with the right tools, training and survey design protocols, citizen science can be used to answer a variety of applied management questions while connecting participants with their secretive mammal neighbors.

Keywords: Camera traps; Citizen science; Seasonal patterns; Wildlife management; Wildlife monitoring.

Grant support

This work was conducted with funding from the National Park Service [grant #P15AC00972], the US Forest Service [grant #13-JV-11330101-021], and the VRW Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.