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Elusive animals caught on camera could help save endangered species

The animals caught by the cameras comprised of 166 species.

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A photo of an endangered gorilla taken by a wildlife camera. (TEAM via SWNS)

By Jim Leffman via SWNS

These elusive animals caught on camera could hold the key to improving the conservation of endangered species.

Scientists have studied more than 2.3 million pictures of animals taken in tropical forests by camera traps to look for clues as to animal behavior.

They have found out both when animals are active and why – allowing for better tactics for conservation.

From gorillas in Africa to jaguars and giant anteaters in South America, the international team has found remarkable consistent patterns of daily activity across continents.

Knowing when and why different animals in a community are active is fundamental for conservation as this is the time when they are often exposed to risks, like hunting, and conflicts with humans.

Study lead author Andrea Vallejo-Vargas, a doctoral student at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences said: "How animals spend their day; eating, sleeping, and moving, and when they do it, varies between species.

"The mechanisms behind these patterns are poorly understood.

“The main determining factors of daily activity were body size and diet.

"Large carnivores and omnivores are more likely to be active during the day than smaller species with the same diets.

"By contrast, larger herbivores, were more likely nocturnal that smaller herbivores.

“We suppose that there is a link between body size and so-called thermoregulation constraints.”

A jaguar was caught on camera. (TEAM via SWNS)

This means that the larger the body, the more energy is required to maintain optimal body temperature in a warm climate.

It is probably more favorable for the larger herbivores to be active at night to save energy

Insectivores were the one exception where the pattern differed across continents. Larger species were more likely to be active in the day in the Americas while the reverse was true in Africa and Asia.

While herbivores were affected by temperature; carnivores, and particularly top predators, have activity patterns that match their prey.

She said: “We saw a considerable overlap of activity of top predators to that of the herbivores they eat.

"Similarly, small prey species were found to try to avoid the top predators.

"These behavioral patterns have cascading impacts further down in the food chain, affecting other species.

“For instance, we do not know whether the disappearance of top predators in some protected areas affects the behavior of prey or whether the decreased abundance of prey affects the activity of predators and the possible cascading effects on the ecosystem."

The pictures cover three tropical biogeographic regions, Neotropics, Afrotropics, and Indo-Malayan tropics.

Animals caught by the cameras comprised of 166 species, including various weasels, wild pigs, gorillas, African buffalo, jaguars, and tigers.

Many of the captured species are endangered, and many of them we know very little about.

Map showing the different locations of the cameras used in the study. (TEAM via SWNS)

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, showed the results were remarkably consistent across continents.

Ms. Varllejo-Vargas added: “You would think there would be some variation between ecosystems as far apart as Africa and South America.

“There are large differences in species, particularly endemic ones. For example, there are no elephants or gorillas in the Amazon, or armadillos in Malaysia.

“Think of it as parallel evolutionary or ecological processes happening across the world at the same time, yielding the same results over and over.

“Herbivore and insectivore activity appears to be shaped by climate. Predator and prey activity, on the other hand, are influenced by the animals and their interactions."

All the photos were collected by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, a large network of voluntary research partners who collect data on biodiversity in tropical forests.

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