Camera traps help us study mammals continuously for long periods of time. They have the added benefit of working while we’re not in the field, with minimum disturbance to wildlife.
They also help answer the questions I’m interested in. Does human activity impact how a mammal spends its time? Does an animal’s circadian rhythm (the internal clock that regulates when it sleeps and wakes) change in response to changes in land use?
My interns and I spend our weeks navigating the grasslands, the Missouri Breaks and the Little Rockies to reach highly remote areas to set up camera traps. Explore a map of our camera trap sites around the prairie:
In the forest we can easily mount cameras on trees, but in the grasslands it’s a bit trickier. Some animals are attracted to foreign objects that stick out, so we try to keep the cameras low to the ground. We even camouflage them so wildlife doesn’t get too curious.
The data we collect will tell us how habitat selection, seasonality and grazing management affects wildlife, as well as how different animals impact each other.
We’re already learning that terrain, water availability and proximity to the Missouri River affect where animals choose to live. The data also shows that land use and grazing management impact the time of day in which animals are most active (we call this diel activity pattern).
This means that animals can’t always take advantage of resources at desired times. That’s especially concerning in areas that connect the landscape, acting as passageways from one resource patch to another.