UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The results of the first national mammal survey, now publicly available online, provides the framework to answer a variety of questions about wild animal populations and conservation strategies for threatened species. The survey, which involved researchers from across the country including a biologist at Penn State, is made up of data from 1,509 motion-activated camera traps from 110 sites located across all 50 states.
“The data generated from this immense project are invaluable for answering fundamental questions about wild mammal populations,” said Sean Giery, Eberly postdoctoral research scholar at Penn State, who participated in the survey. “But I think the real benefits will come years from now, when we can use these data as a baseline to measure change in the diversity, distribution and abundance of mammals in the United States.”
Unlike birds, which have multiple large-scale monitoring programs, there has been no standard way to monitor mammal populations at a national scale. To address this challenge, a team of more than 150 scientists, led by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, recently collaborated on the first-ever nationwide wildlife survey called Snapshot USA.
“Remote-triggered cameras — camera traps — have revolutionized wildlife research, especially for mammals that are too wary to observe directly or only come out at night,” said Giery. “These cameras are widely used by hunters, but ecologists also employ them for a range of studies. Now, we can set up motion-triggered cameras for months at a time, learning what animals are present in an area and how abundant they are. Sometimes, we even get a peek at social behaviors or predation. But until now, there just hasn’t been a large-scale effort to coordinate a camera survey like this across the entire U.S.”