Can Camera Traps Monitor Komodo Dragons a Large Ectothermic Predator?


Camera trapping has greatly enhanced population monitoring of often cryptic and low abundance apex carnivores. Effectiveness of passive infrared camera trapping, and ultimately population monitoring, relies on temperature mediated differences between the animal and its ambient environment to ensure good camera detection. In ectothermic predators such as large varanid lizards, this criterion is presumed less certain. Here we evaluated the effectiveness of camera trapping to potentially monitor the population status of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), an apex predator, using site occupancy approaches. We compared site-specific estimates of site occupancy and detection derived using camera traps and cage traps at 181 trapping locations established across six sites on four islands within Komodo National Park, Eastern Indonesia. Detection and site occupancy at each site were estimated using eight competing models that considered site-specific variation in occupancy (ψ)and varied detection probabilities (p) according to detection method, site and survey number using a single season site occupancy modelling approach. The most parsimonious model [ψ (site), p (site*survey); ω = 0.74] suggested that site occupancy estimates differed among sites. Detection probability varied as an interaction between site and survey number. Our results indicate that overall camera traps produced similar estimates of detection and site occupancy to cage traps, irrespective of being paired, or unpaired, with cage traps. Whilst one site showed some evidence detection was affected by trapping method detection was too low to produce an accurate occupancy estimate. Overall, as camera trapping is logistically more feasible it may provide, with further validation, an alternative method for evaluating long-term site occupancy patterns in Komodo dragons, and potentially other large reptiles, aiding conservation of this species.

Authors: Achmad Ariefiandy, Deni Purwandana, Aganto Seno, Claudio Ciofi, Tim S. Jessop           
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