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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. 1. Camera trap technology has galvanized the study of predator-prey ecology in wild animal communities by expanding the scale and diversity of predator-prey interactions that can be analyzed. While observational data from systematic camera arrays have informed inferences on the spatiotemporal outcomes of predator-prey interactions, the capacity for observational studies to identify mechanistic drivers of species interactions is limited. 2. Experimental study designs that utilize camera traps uniquely allow for testing hypothesized mechanisms that drive predator and prey behavior, incorporating environmental realism not possible in the lab while benefiting from the distinct capacity of camera traps to generate large data sets from multiple species with minimal observer interference. However, such pairings of camera traps with experimental methods remain underutilized. 3. We review recent advances in the experimental application of camera traps to investigate fundamental mechanisms underlying predator-prey ecology and present a conceptual guide for designing experimental camera trap studies. 4. Only 9% of camera trap studies on predator-prey ecology in our review mention experimental methods, but the application of experimental approaches is increasing. To illustrate the utility of camera trap-based experiments using a case study, we propose a study design that integrates observational and experimental techniques to test a perennialmore »question in predator-prey ecology: how prey balance foraging and safety, as formalized by the risk allocation hypothesis. We discuss applications of camera trap-based experiments to evaluate the diversity of anthropogenic influences on wildlife communities globally. Finally, we review challenges to conducting experimental camera trap studies. 5. Experimental camera trap studies have already begun to play an important role in understanding the predator-prey ecology of free-living animals, and such methods will become increasingly critical to quantifying drivers of community interactions in a rapidly changing world. We recommend increased application of experimental methods in the study of predator and prey responses to humans, synanthropic and invasive species, and other anthropogenic disturbances.« less