Context. Evaluating predator management efficacy is difficult, especially when resources are limited. Carefully designing monitoring programs in advance is critical for data collection that is sufficient to evaluate management success and to inform decisions.
Aims. The aim was to investigate how the design of camera trap studies can affect the ability to reliably detect changes in red fox (Vulpes vulpes) activity over space and time. Specifically, to examine the effect of study duration, camera cost and detection zone under various environmental and management scenarios, including different fox densities, management impacts, monitoring budgets and levels of spatial and temporal variation.
Methods. A generalised linear mixed model was used to analyse simulated datasets from control sites and sites with predator management actions implemented, following a before–after or control–impact sampling design. Statistical power analyses were conducted to evaluate whether a change in fox abundance could be detected across various environmental and management scenarios.
Key results. Results showed that a before–after sampling design is less sensitive than a control–impact sampling design to the number of cameras used for monitoring. However, a before–after sampling design requires a longer monitoring period to achieve a satisfactory level of power, due to higher sensitivity to study duration. Given a fixed budget, there can be a trade-off between purchasing a small number of high quality cameras with large detection zones, or a larger number of cameras with smaller detection zones. In a control-impact design we found that if spatial heterogeneity was high, a larger number of cameras with smaller detection zones provided more power to detect a difference in fox abundance.
Conclusion. This simulation-based approach demonstrates the importance of exploring various monitoring designs to detect the effect of predator management across plausible environmental and budgetary scenarios.
Implications. The present study informs the monitoring design of an adaptive management program that aims to understand the role of managing fox predation on malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), a threatened Australian bird. Furthermore, this approach provides a useful guide for developing cost-effective camera trap monitoring studies to assess efficacy of conservation management programs. Power analyses are an essential step for designing efficient monitoring, and indicate the strength of ecological signals that can realistically be detected through the noise of spatial and temporal heterogeneity under various budgetary constraints.