Evaluating camera traps as an alternative to live trapping for estimating the density of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Live trapping is one of the methods typically used to estimate population densities of small mammals, but this is labor-intensive and can be stressful to individuals. We assess the use of camera trap hit (detection) rates as a noninvasive alternative to live trapping for estimating population densities of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus (Erxleben, 1777)) and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus (Erxleben, 1777))—two common small (≤1.5 kg) mammal species in the boreal forests of northern North America. We compared hit rates from camera trapping to live trapping mark-recapture density estimates and asked if the hit window—the length of time used to group consecutive videos together as single detections or “hits”—has an effect on the correlation between hit rates and live trapping density estimates. The relationship between hit rate and population density was sensitive to hit window duration for red squirrels with R 2 values ranging from 0.41 to 0.68, and a 5-min hit window generated the highest value. R 2 values for snowshoe hares ranged from 0.70 to 0.90, and a 10-min hit window generated the highest value, but hares were live trapped and filmed only at very low densities. Our results indicate that camera trapping is a robust means for estimating the density of red squirrels, but the appropriate hit window duration must be determined empirically if camera trapping data are to be used to monitor populations of this species. Additional live trapping and filming of snowshoe hares is required to better assess camera trapping of this species.
KeywordsCamera trapping Density estimation Lepus americanus Snowshoe hare Red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
We thank K. Broadley, L. Hofer, R. Johnson, A. Kenney, E. Lomax, L. Pavan, and N. Warren for their assistance in the field. Research funding was provided by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (CJK) and the Northern Scientific Training Program (PV, CJK), and the Yukon Department of Environment (TSJ). The facilities of the Kluane Lake Research Station of the Arctic Institute of North America were essential for this research; we thank S. Williams and L. Goodwin for their assistance.
This study was funded by research grants from the National Scientific and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Northern Scientific Training Program (Government of Canada) and the Yukon Department of Environment.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed were preapproved by the University of British Columbia’s Animal Care Committee.
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