What is the forest canopy?

The canopy is the ceiling of the forest, created by the inter-tangled branches and leaves of trees. Around the world, tropical forest canopies are largely unexplored because they are mostly inaccessible to scientists, being high in the trees where it is difficult to climb and move around.

Images by Rhett A. Butler

What is a camera trap?

A camera trap is a camera that is automatically triggered by the movement of an animal. The images are stored in the camera and downloaded by scientists. A camera trap is usually placed where scientists suspect that animals are moving.

A camera trap set to take photos of ground-based animals. Image by Rhett A. Butler

Arboreal camera traps open up a new world of research

Now, scientists are using camera traps in forest canopies to learn more about this secretive treetop world! An arboreal animal or plant is one that lives in the trees instead of on the ground. Arboreal camera traps are cameras positioned to capture life in the trees.

Study co-author, Tremaine Gregory, positions a camera on a branch. Custom-built camera mounts can allow tilting and panning to adjust the field of view. Image by Diego Balbuena

Tremaine Gregory climbs a tree in Peru using a system of ropes and pulleys. Image courtesy of Diego Balbuena

Camera traps can gather all kinds of useful data (collected facts and information). Camera traps help record what species visit an area and how these animals behave (what they do, what they eat, and how they interact).

Blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis) in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Image courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society-Rwanda Program

Recently, scientists who use camera traps in forest canopies around the world worked together to write a scientific paper, which is a way of communicating ideas and results with other people. The paper describes how to use arboreal camera traps and what we can learn by using them.

Arboreal camera trapping is a relatively new technology and accessing the forest canopy can be dangerous. In their paper, the scientists describe safe ways to set up the camera traps and download the data. They also describe what camera traps can help us learn about the ecology of forest canopies and the plants and animals that live there.

What have the scientists learned so far?

Camera traps help scientists discover animals living in places where they were not known to live. For instance, Tremaine Gregory, a scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, discovered a population of dwarf porcupines living in Peru that no one knew was there!

There is lots more to be discovered with arboreal camera traps. It is an exciting new way to carry out research in the forest canopy. Camera trapping will also help guide efforts to protect forest life.

Lord Derby’s Anomalure (Anomalurus derbianus) in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Image courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society-Rwanda Program

Adapted from an article on Mongabay.com:


Citation for the scientific paper:

Moore, J. F., Soanes, K., Balbuena, D., Beirne, C., Bowler, M., Carrasco-Rueda, F., … Gregory, T. (2021). The potential and practice of arboreal camera trapping. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.13666