Using camera trapping and hierarchical occupancy modelling to evaluate the spatial ecology of an African mammal community

Lindsey N. Rich, David A.W. Miller, Hugh S. Robinson, J. Weldon McNutt, Marcella J. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Emerging conservation paradigms have shifted from single to multi-species approaches focused on sustaining biodiversity. Multi-species hierarchical occupancy modelling provides a method for assessing biodiversity while accounting for multiple sources of uncertainty. We analysed camera trapping data with multi-species models using a Bayesian approach to estimate the distributions of a terrestrial mammal community in northern Botswana and evaluate community, group, and species-specific responses to human disturbance and environmental variables. Groupings were based on two life-history traits: body size (small, medium, large and extra-large) and diet (carnivore, omnivore and herbivore). We photographed 44 species of mammals over 6607 trap nights. Camera station-specific estimates of species richness ranged from 8 to 27 unique species, and species had a mean occurrence probability of 0·32 (95% credible interval = 0·21–0·45). At the community level, our model revealed species richness was generally greatest in floodplains and grasslands and with increasing distances into protected wildlife areas. Variation among species’ responses was explained in part by our species groupings. The positive influence of protected areas was strongest for extra-large species and herbivores, while medium-sized species actually increased in the non-protected areas. The positive effect of grassland/floodplain cover, alternatively, was strongest for large species and carnivores and weakest for small species and herbivores, suggesting herbivore diversity is promoted by habitat heterogeneity. Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight the importance of protected areas and grasslands in maintaining biodiversity in southern Africa. We demonstrate the utility of hierarchical Bayesian models for assessing community, group and individual species’ responses to anthropogenic and environmental variables. This framework can be used to map areas of high conservation value and predict impacts of land-use change. Our approach is particularly applicable to the growing number of camera trap studies world-wide, and we suggest broader application globally will likely result in reduced costs, improved efficiency and increased knowledge of wildlife communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1225-1235
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology


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