Can Camera Traps Capture Animal Sociality?
Camera trapping is an increasingly popular technique for keeping track of wild animal populations, and it holds a lot of promise in several areas of conservation science. Indeed, it’s a technique that we’ve covered frequently on Faunalytics, and you can browse our coverage related to it in our research library. It’s a relatively cheap, and non-invasive method of study that allows conservationists to get reliable population estimates, however, looking at the scholarship so far, it’s apparent that there are few articles where camera traps are used to analyze social behavior.
In this study, Spanish researchers wanted to test the limitations of camera trapping as a method of study of social behavior, using the wild boar as a case study. In particular, the researchers were interested in finding out how the issue of video length may modify conclusions. Since camera traps may be triggered by movement, and may only be active for certain time intervals, the length of a video can be a crucial issue. The researchers used cameras in a “food competition” scenario and made videos to analyze the wild boars’ behavior. They coded the behavior of the boar – who has a linear social structure – as dominant, submissive, or neutral, and created videos of 25 separate five minute videos, which they then cut into smaller arbitrary lengths.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that social interactions could be most easily seen and coded in the longest videos. The shorter the video, the less social behavior was able to be seen. That being said, they did note that the 20 and 10 second videos could be used for behavioral examination, but depending on where the cuts in videos occur, they could skew the results or even create inaccurate interpretations.
For wild animal advocates and conservationists, the study shows that there are some important caveats to the use of camera traps, and especially video traps, for behavioral study. While it seems like camera traps remain an important tool for population monitoring, using them to get deeper insight into behavior may need some refinement.