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  1. Acvedo, Miguel (Ed.)
    Camera traps (CTs) are a valuable tool in ecological research, amassing large quantities of information on the behaviour of diverse wildlife communities. CTs are predominantly used as passive data loggers to gather observational data for correlational analyses. Integrating CTs into experimental studies, however, can enable rigorous testing of key hypotheses in animal behaviour and conservation biology that are otherwise difficult or impossible to evaluate. We developed the 'BoomBox', an open-source Arduino-compatible board that attaches to commercially available CTs to form an Automated Behavioural Response (ABR) system. The modular unit connects directly to the CT’s passive infrared (PIR) motion sensor, playing audio files over external speakers when the sensor is triggered. This creates a remote playback system that captures animal responses to specific cues, combining the benefits of camera trapping (e.g. continuous monitoring in remote locations, lack of human observers, large data volume) with the power of experimental manipulations (e.g. controlled perturbations for strong mechanistic inference). Our system builds on previous ABR designs to provide a cheap (~100USD) and customizable field tool. We provide a practical guide detailing how to build and operate the BoomBox ABR system with suggestions for potential experimental designs that address a variety of questions in wildlifemore »ecology. As proof-of-concept, we successfully field tested the BoomBox in two distinct field settings to study species interactions (predator–prey and predator–predator) and wildlife responses to conservation interventions. This new tool allows researchers to conduct a unique suite of manipulative experiments on free-living species in complex environments, enhancing the ability to identify mechanistic drivers of species' behaviours and interactions in natural systems.« less
  2. Yue, Bi-Song (Ed.)
    Large mammalian herbivores use a diverse array of strategies to survive predator encounters including flight, grouping, vigilance, warning signals, and fitness indicators. While anti-predator strategies appear to be driven by specific predator traits, no prior studies have rigorously evaluated whether predator hunting characteristics predict reactive anti-predator responses. We experimentally investigated behavioral decisions made by free-ranging impala, wildebeest, and zebra during encounters with model predators with different functional traits. We hypothesized that the choice of response would be driven by a predator’s hunting style (i.e., ambush vs. coursing) while the intensity at which the behavior was performed would correlate with predator traits that contribute to the prey’s relative risk (i.e., each predator’s prey preference, prey-specific capture success, and local predator density). We found that the choice and intensity of anti-predator behaviors were both shaped by hunting style and relative risk factors. All prey species directed longer periods of vigilance towards predators with higher capture success. The decision to flee was the only behavior choice driven by predator characteristics (capture success and hunting style) while intensity of vigilance, frequency of alarm-calling, and flight latency were modulated based on predator hunting strategy and relative risk level. Impala regulated only the intensity of theirmore »behaviors, while zebra and wildebeest changed both type and intensity of response based on predator traits. Zebra and impala reacted to multiple components of predation threat, while wildebeest responded solely to capture success. Overall, our findings suggest that certain behaviors potentially facilitate survival under specific contexts and that prey responses may reflect the perceived level of predation risk, suggesting that adaptive functions to reactive anti-predator behaviors may reflect potential trade-offs to their use. The strong influence of prey species identity and social and environmental context suggest that these factors may interact with predator traits to determine the optimal response to immediate predation threat.« less
  3. Camera traps - remote cameras that capture images of passing wildlife - have become a ubiquitous tool in ecology and conservation. Systematic camera trap surveys generate ‘Big Data’ across broad spatial and temporal scales, providing valuable information on environmental and anthropogenic factors affecting vulnerable wildlife populations. However, the sheer number of images amassed can quickly outpace researchers’ ability to manually extract data from these images (e.g., species identities, counts, and behaviors) in timeframes useful for making scientifically-guided conservation and management decisions. Here, we present ‘Snapshot Safari’ as a case study for merging citizen science and machine learning to rapidly generate highly accurate ecological Big Data from camera trap surveys. Snapshot Safari is a collaborative cross-continental research and conservation effort with 1500+ cameras deployed at over 40 eastern and southern Africa protected areas, generating millions of images per year. As one of the first and largest-scale camera trapping initiatives, Snapshot Safari spearheaded innovative developments in citizen science and machine learning. We highlight the advances made and discuss the issues that arose using each of these methods to annotate camera trap data. We end by describing how we combined human and machine classification methods (‘Crowd AI’) to create an efficient integrated datamore »pipeline. Ultimately, by using a feedback loop in which humans validate machine learning predictions and machine learning algorithms are iteratively retrained on new human classifications, we can capitalize on the strengths of both methods of classification while mitigating the weaknesses. Using Crowd AI to quickly and accurately ‘unlock’ ecological Big Data for use in science and conservation is revolutionizing the way we take on critical environmental issues in the Anthropocene era.« less
  4. Understanding the role of species interactions within communities is a central focus of ecology. A key challenge is to understand variation in species interactions along environmental gradients. The stress gradient hypothesis posits that positive interactions increase and competitive interactions decrease with increasing consumer pressure or environmental stress. This hypothesis has received extensive attention in plant community ecology, but only a handful of tests in animals. Furthermore, few empirical studies have examined multiple co‐occurring stressors. Here we test predictions of the stress gradient hypothesis using the occurrence of mixed‐species groups in six common grazing ungulate species within the Serengeti‐Mara ecosystem. We use mixed‐species groups as a proxy for potential positive interactions because they may enhance protection from predators or increase access to high‐quality forage. Alternatively, competition for resources may limit the formation of mixed‐species groups. Using more than 115,000 camera trap observations collected over 5 yr, we found that mixed‐species groups were more likely to occur in risky areas (i.e., areas closer to lion vantage points and in woodland habitat where lions hunt preferentially) and during time periods when resource levels were high. These results are consistent with the interpretation that stress from high predation risk may contribute to the formationmore »of mixed‐species groups, but that competition for resources may prevent their formation when food availability is low. Our results are consistent with support for the stress gradient hypothesis in animals along a consumer pressure gradient while identifying the potential influence of a co‐occurring stressor, thus providing a link between research in plant community ecology on the stress gradient hypothesis, and research in animal ecology on trade‐offs between foraging and risk in landscapes of fear.« less
  5. Human activity and land use change impact every landscape on Earth, driving declines in many animal species while benefiting others. Species ecological and life history traits may predict success in human-dominated landscapes such that only species with “winning” combinations of traits will persist in disturbed environments. However, this link between species traits and successful coexistence with humans remains obscured by the complexity of anthropogenic disturbances and variability among study systems. We compiled detection data for 24 mammal species from 61 populations across North America to quantify the effects of (1) the direct presence of people and (2) the human footprint (landscape modification) on mammal occurrence and activity levels. Thirty-three percent of mammal species exhibited a net negative response (i.e., reduced occurrence or activity) to increasing human presence and/or footprint across populations, whereas 58% of species were positively associated with increasing disturbance. However, apparent benefits of human presence and footprint tended to decrease or disappear at higher disturbance levels, indicative of thresholds in mammal species’ capacity to tolerate disturbance or exploit human-dominated landscapes. Species ecological and life history traits were strong predictors of their responses to human footprint, with increasing footprint favoring smaller, less carnivorous, faster-reproducing species. The positive and negativemore »effects of human presence were distributed more randomly with respect to species trait values, with apparent winners and losers across a range of body sizes and dietary guilds. Differential responses by some species to human presence and human footprint highlight the importance of considering these two forms of human disturbance separately when estimating anthropogenic impacts on wildlife. Our approach provides insights into the complex mechanisms through which human activities shape mammal communities globally, revealing the drivers of the loss of larger predators in human-modified landscapes.« less