UM Researcher Estimates Wildlife Population Size with Cameras
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: August 31, 2018

MISSOULA – A University of Montana researcher has developed novel ways to estimate the population size of wildlife species using remote cameras.

Anna Moeller in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation completed the work as part of her master’s degree in wildlife biology, along with her adviser, UM associate professor Paul Lukacs, and collaborator John Horne from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Her paper, published in the journal Ecosphere, explains the statistical models that make it possible to count animals not identifiable at an individual level.

“Most existing methods to estimate abundance from cameras work well for animals with unique stripe or spot patterns, like tigers and leopards,” Moeller said. “The challenge comes when you can’t tell individuals apart.”

Moeller and her team randomly placed 80 game cameras and modeled the distribution of animals to get an accurate estimate of the elk population in the Beaverhead Mountains of Idaho. IDFG funded the study to see if these methods could allow cameras to become a useful alternative to helicopter surveys, which are expensive and dangerous.

“Aviation accidents are the leading cause of death for wildlife biologists,” Moeller said. “We were really motivated to find a safer option.”

Scientists and wildlife managers have deployed thousands of remote cameras globally to study everything from predation to diet to migration. Moeller and her collaborators believe that their results can be applied around the world to help aid conservation methods and wildlife management.

The paper, “Three novel methods to estimate abundance of unmarked animals using remote cameras,” is online in Ecosphere at https://bit.ly/2wilXkH.