Penn State biologist participates in first national mammal survey

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — A biologist at Penn State University and other researchers from across the country worked to gather data for the first national mammal survey, which was created to investigate conservation strategies for threatened species.

The results of the survey are now available to the public online. It consists of data from 1,509 motion-activated camera traps from 110 sites across the country, according to Penn State. The study was led by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, called “Snapshot USA.”

“The data generated from this immense project are invaluable for answering fundamental questions about wild mammal populations,” Sean Giery, Eberly postdoctoral research scholar at Penn State, who participated in the survey said. “But I think the real benefits will come years from now, when we can use these data as a baseline to measure change in the diversity, distribution and abundance of mammals in the United States.”

Giery said remote-triggered cameras have revolutionized wildlife research, especially for mammals. According to Giery, ecologists can set up the cameras for months at a time to learn what animals are present in an area and how abundant they are.

The study collected over 166,000 images of 83 different mammal species in the fall of 2019. According to the data, white-tailed deer were the most common species detected (over 34,000 times at 1,033 camera sites) followed by eastern gray squirrels and raccoons. The coyote was the most broadly detected animal overall, which was photographed in 49 states, excluding Hawaii.

Researchers noted developed areas in the United States tended to have the highest overall mammal detections; three of the top five sites for total mammal activity were at the following locations:

  • Urbana, Illinois
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Washington, D.C.

“This project involved a remarkable level of cooperation and data sharing that will have to be the standard going forward to adequately monitor our valuable wildlife resources at the national scale,” William McShea, wildlife ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute said.

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