This material has been published in Biotropica (2010, 42: 126-133), the only definitive repository of the content that has been certified and accepted after peer review. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by the publishers.


Differential use of trails by forest mammals and the implications for camera trap studies, a case study from Belize, Central America

Bart J. Harmsen, Rebecca J. Foster, Scott C. Silver, Linde E. T. Ostro, and C. Patrick Doncaster

Relative abundance indices are often used to compare species abundance between sites. The indices assume that species have similar detection probabilities, or that differences between detection probabilities are known and can be corrected for. Indices often consist of encounter frequencies of footprints, burrows, markings or photo captures along trails or transect lines, but the assumption of equal detection probabilities is rarely validated. This study analyses detection probabilities of a range of Neotropical mammals on trails in dense secondary forest, using camera-trap and track data. Photo captures of the two large cats, jaguars (Panthera onca) and pumas (Puma concolor), were correlated solely with trail variables, while photo captures of their potential prey species had no correlation or negative correlation with trail variables. The Neotropical mammals varied greatly in their tendency to follow or cross trails based on footprints surveys. This indicates that camera locations on trails will have varying detection probability for these Neotropical mammals. Even the two similar-sized jaguars and pumas, occupying relatively similar niches, differed subtly in their use of trails. Pumas followed trails more completely while jaguars were more likely to deviate from trails. The ecological significance of these findings is that jaguars seem to be more willing to use the forest matrix away from trails than are pumas. We conclude that trail-based indices, such as photographic captures or tracks along trails, are not appropriate for comparison between Neotropical species, and not even between relatively similar species like jaguars and pumas.

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