We got good news this week from protected tropical forest areas in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia! Starting in 2007, an organization called TEAM Network (Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring) placed over 1,000 hidden cameras in protected areas of tropical forests. Their goal was to monitor the huge diversity of species that lived there, and see if there were still continuing declines in the populations despite having protected parks to live in. The special cameras were strapped to trees throughout the forests, and are programmed to take pictures whenever animals walk in front of them.
These cameras took more than 2.5 million images of 244 species! One of the head scientists on the project, Lydia Beaudrot of the University of Michigan, says that the images revealed some surprising results: 17% of the species they monitored increased, which shows that the protected areas are doing their job to help preserve tropical forest ecosystems. The data also helped them protect species that were not faring as well in these environments. For example, the numbers of the rare African golden cat were visibly declining, and appeared fewer and fewer on the cameras. The park rangers noticed that the areas where the cats were spotted were also highly trafficked by tourists, so they redirected visitors to different trails, and the camera sightings of the golden cat increased!
There is definitely still more that needs to be done to protect tropical forest species. Even though the researchers saw an increase in some species, 22% remained constant, and 22% decreased. Some species were not caught on camera often enough to determine if there was any change — up or down — in their population. However, thanks to this research, we now have large datasets that help us protect these delicate and important ecosystems. With the aid of the cameras and the team behind them, we can continue to monitor the forests long-term, and determine the best strategies for preserving them.
Jan 21, 2016