August 16, 2011
An unprecedented global study of mammal populations in tropical environments has garnered invaluable preliminary findings, along with candid photos of warm-blooded animals going about their daily business—with bittersweet implications for the biodiversity of Earth’s wild places.
The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network at Conservation International is conducting the largest camera trap study ever undertaken. The scientists, led by Dr. Jorge Ahumada, have captured almost 52,000 images from seven protected reserves in Africa, Asia and the Americas using some 420 cameras scattered throughout the chosen study areas.
The data they have collected is a vital first step in documenting how deforestation and human encroachment are affecting mammal diversity. Since 2008 TEAM has documented over 100 mammal species (as well as tourists and poachers), giving ecologists a better grasp on what reserves are successfully protecting the animals that live within their boundaries, and the factors that make them successful.
Central Suriname Nature Reserve located in Suriname had the most species diversity, while Nam Kading National Protected Area in Laos was the least diverse—with no word on what part Agent Orange may have played in that discrepancy.
With the addition of camera traps in 10 new sites last year the study is looking to bolster data and pinpoint how to identify critically endangered species before they disappear completely. The real challenge, however, is how scientists will manifest real solutions from the images and information before the study simply becomes a documentation of extinction.