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Trunks and treetops: integrating terrestrial and arboreal camera-trap surveys to document elusive mammal communities in India

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Tropical rainforest canopies harbor nearly half of the world’s biodiversity. Previous research on rainforest ecosystems has primarily focused on the terrestrial stratum, leading to a limited understanding of forest canopies. Camera traps have seen a wide application in the studies of terrestrial mammals, but their utility for documenting arboreal mammal communities has been far more limited. Financial resources, field training, and access to equipment and logistical constraints may have precluded researchers from undertaking systematic arboreal camera surveys, especially in the Global South countries. We deployed arboreal and terrestrial cameras to document the mammal assemblage in Kadumane estate, Western Ghats, India. During April–May 2022, we documented 3 exclusively arboreal, 11 semi-arboreal and 14 terrestrial species, using 16 cameras in the canopies and 13 cameras on the ground. Using rarefaction curves, we find that 648 trap-nights were sufficient to document all the arboreal species, while > 1350 trap-nights of additional effort would have been required to document all the terrestrial species in our study site. For each species, we generated an arboreality index (calculated from proportional capture rates) to gauge its propensity for arboreal habits. We also compared the efficacy of using different baits; species responses to shrimp–dry fish baits indicated a reduction in rodent captures when carnivore captures were higher. Our study deliberates on the resources, logistical considerations, and advantages of arboreal camera surveys to study mammal assemblages in forest canopies. Importantly, we highlight the utility of such surveys for understanding the ecology of rare, elusive, and hitherto under-studied species that may be threatened with extinction.

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The datasets generated and analyzed as part of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, for offering logistical support and the Kadumane Tea Estate, Karnataka, for granting us permission to carry out the study.


This study was funded by On the Edge Conservation, UK, through a grant to the Wildlife Biology and Conservation Program, National Centre for Biological Sciences–TIFR. A.S. was supported by the Department of Science and Technology–Government of India’s Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research Faculty Award.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design; material preparation and data collection: ON; analysis: ON and VR; first draft of the manuscript was written by ON, AS, and VR; all authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Orvill Nazareth.

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The study was not conducted in any protected areas and did not require research permits. Since the methods used were non-invasive in nature, animal care and use committee approval was not required.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Communicated by: Dries Kuijper

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Nazareth, O., Srivathsa, A. & Ramachandran, V. Trunks and treetops: integrating terrestrial and arboreal camera-trap surveys to document elusive mammal communities in India. Mamm Res 69, 43–52 (2024).

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