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A critique of density estimation from camera-trap data

Authors

  • Rebecca J. Foster,

    Corresponding author
    1. Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10018, USA
    2. School of Biological Sciences, B85, Life Sciences Building, University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
    • Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10018, USA
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  • Bart J. Harmsen

    1. Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10018, USA
    2. School of Biological Sciences, B85, Life Sciences Building, University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
    3. Environmental Research Institute, University of Belize, Pre-School Grounds, Price Center Road, PO Box 340, Belmopan, Belize, Central America
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  • Associate Editor: Gary White

Abstract

Densities of elusive terrestrial mammals are commonly estimated from camera-trap data. Typically, this is a 2-step process involving 1) fitting conventional closed population capture–recapture models to estimate abundance, and 2) using ad hoc methods to determine the effective trapping area. The methodology needs to be accurate, robust, and reliable when results are used to guide wildlife management. We critically review 47 published studies and discuss the problems associated with contemporary population estimates of elusive species from camera-trap data. In particular we discuss 1) individual identification, 2) sample size and capture probability, 3) camera location and spacing, 4) the size of the study area, and 5) ad hoc density estimation from the calculation of an effective trapping area. We also discuss the recently developed spatially explicit capture–recapture (SECR) models as an alternative approach that does not require the intermediate step of estimating an effective trapping area. We recommend 1) greater transparency in study design and quality of the data, 2) greater rigor when reviewing manuscripts, and 3) that more attention is given to the survey design to ensure data are of sufficient quality for analysis. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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