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10 December 2018 Estimating macropod grazing density and defining activity patterns using camera-trap image analysis
Helen R. Morgan, Guy Ballard, Peter J. S. Fleming, Nick Reid, Remy Van der Ven, Karl Vernes
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Abstract

Context. When measuring grazing impacts of vertebrates, the density of animals and time spent foraging are important. Traditionally, dung pellet counts are used to index macropod grazing density, and a direct relationship between herbivore density and foraging impact is assumed. However, rarely are pellet deposition rates measured or compared with camera-trap indices.

Aims. The aims were to pilot an efficient and reliable camera-trapping method for monitoring macropod grazing density and activity patterns, and to contrast pellet counts with macropod counts from camera trapping, for estimating macropod grazing density.

Methods. Camera traps were deployed on stratified plots in a fenced enclosure containing a captive macropod population and the experiment was repeated in the same season in the following year after population reduction. Camera-based macropod counts were compared with pellet counts and pellet deposition rates were estimated using both datasets. Macropod frequency was estimated, activity patterns developed, and the variability between resting and grazing plots and the two estimates of macropod density was investigated.

Key Results. Camera-trap grazing density indices initially correlated well with pellet count indices (r2 = 0.86), but were less reliable between years. Site stratification enabled a significant relationship to be identified between camera-trap counts and pellet counts in grazing plots. Camera-trap indices were consistent for estimating grazing density in both surveys but were not useful for estimating absolute abundance in this study.

Conclusions. Camera trapping was efficient and reliable for estimating macropod activity patterns. Although significant, the relationship between pellet count indices and macropod grazing density based on camera-trapping indices was not strong; this was due to variability in macropod pellet deposition rates over different years. Time-lapse camera imagery has potential for simultaneously assessing herbivore foraging activity budgets with grazing densities and vegetation change. Further work is required to refine the use of camera-trapping indices for estimation of absolute abundance.

Implications. Time-lapse camera trapping and site-stratified sampling allow concurrent assessment of grazing density and grazing behaviour at plot and landscape scale.

© CSIRO 2018
Helen R. Morgan, Guy Ballard, Peter J. S. Fleming, Nick Reid, Remy Van der Ven, and Karl Vernes "Estimating macropod grazing density and defining activity patterns using camera-trap image analysis," Wildlife Research 45(8), 706-717, (10 December 2018). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR17162
Received: 13 November 2017; Accepted: 15 October 2018; Published: 10 December 2018
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KEYWORDS
dung pellet counts
kangaroo behaviour
pellet deposition
time-lapse
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