The world’s tropical forests are thick with trees, rich in life, and dense with humidity. However, high-quality information and expansive data about the biodiversity within these understudied wildlife hospots is scarce. This makes conservation initiatives all the more difficult to create.
So, to find out how effective protected forests are at helping wildlife, a recent study by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) has captured an unbelievable amount of images documenting the intense biodiversity of protected sites in 15 tropical forests around the world.
For the study, TEAM set up a network of over 1,000 camera traps across forests in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Each site was surveyed for at least three years, creating a total of over 500,000 images per year of 244 ground-dwelling vertebrate species – from African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in the Republic of Congo to giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) in Ecuador.
The images were captured using motion-triggered cameras that snap away if they detect an animal walking through their path. Each site had between 60 to 90 cameras set up, placed around every 1 to 2 kilometers squared (0.38 to 0.77 miles squared).
African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Male Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) close-up in Cameroon, with a female and juvenile in the background. Image credit: TEAM Network and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest cat in the western hemisphere and a near threatened species. This individual was photographed at Volcán Barva, Costa Rica. Image credit: Courtesy of TEAM Network and Conservation International
Using the images as data, the researchers created occupancy models of each species over a three to eight year period. Overall, the results were remarkably positive: 17 percent of the monitored populations were found to be increasing, 22 percent were remaining stable, and 22 percent showed some decline. The remaining 39 were animals not detected often enough for their population statistics. According to the authors, these results paint a more optmistic picture about the success of protected areas, contrasting earlier reports of widespread decline.
It's hoped that the study will therefore verify that protected areas are highly effective at preserving – and indeed increasing – numbers of endangered wildlife.
"At a time when environmental concerns are taking center stage, these results show that protected areas play an important role in maintaining biodiversity," said Jorge Ahumada, executive director of the TEAM Network and a coauthor of the study said in a press release.
"Our study reflects a more optimistic outlook about the effectiveness of protected areas. For the first time we are not relying on disparate data sources, but rather using primary data collected in a standardized way across a range of protected areas throughout the world.
“With this data we have created a public resource that can be used by governments or others in the conservation community to inform decisions."
Make sure you check out the official TEAM gallery for more of their incredible photographs.
Two rarely-seen bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) are captured for the first time in Yanachaga–Chemillén National Park, Peru. TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society