Understanding distributions of invasive mammals in urban environments using remote cameras and citizen science
Preserving biodiversity in urban environments is crucial not only for preventing local extinctions of native species, but also for educating the public about the importance of species conservation. Invasive mammalian species can have negative impacts for both people and biodiversity in urban environments. Understanding the factors influencing the distribution of these invasive species is crucial to comply with the ethical, ecological, and practical concerns associated with their management. Remote cameras are an increasingly popular tool for investigating the distribution and abundance of mammals. Yet few studies have used these cameras in urban environments. The time and effort required to classify remote camera data is the main constraint of this monitoring technique. To determine whether employing citizen science could facilitate the use of remote cameras in urban environments, I investigated the engagement, accuracy, and efficiency of volunteers (i.e., citizen scientists) in classifying animal images recorded by remote cameras in Wellington, New Zealand. Classifications from citizen scientists were in 84.2% agreement with classifications of expert ecologists. However, accuracy varied significantly among species and volunteers. Aggregating multiple classifications per image and highlighting animal movement in the images improved the accuracy of citizen scientists. Additionally, weighting their classifications based on previous accuracy, self-assessed confidence, and the species reported reduced the number of volunteer classifications required to achieve levels of accuracy comparable to that of experts. These results illustrate that citizen science allows for accurate and efficient classifications of remote camera data from urban areas. Using the classifications provided by citizen scientists, I then evaluated the suitability of remote cameras to monitor invasive mammals in urban environments. Based on data collected from forest and residential areas of Wellington, New Zealand, remote cameras detected significantly more European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and rats (Rattus spp.) than tracking tunnels. Cameras, however, missed recording house mice (Mus musculus) on some occasions where tracking tunnels detected them, and vice-versa. Overall, my results demonstrate that remote cameras are a more efficient multi-species monitoring tool than tracking tunnels. Independent of habitat type, cats (Felis catus), hedgehogs, and mice were the species most frequently recorded. Data from remote cameras subsequently helped quantify differences in the occupancy rates of species between residential and forested areas furthering our ecological understanding of the distribution of invasive species in peopled landscapes. To identify the underlying processes influencing the distribution and abundances of invasive mammals found in urban patches of vegetation, I also used remote cameras to investigate the influence of habitat quality, management efforts, interspecific interactions and seasonality on the occupancy and relative abundance of invasive mammals in 47 patches of forest within Wellington. My results indicate that distance to forest edge influences positively on the relative abundance of rodents and negatively on the relative abundance of common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), cats, European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), and hedgehogs. The cameras also revealed a positive interaction between the occupancy of ship rats (Rattus rattus) and the abundance of Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), a positive influence of the nearby buildings on the occupancy of cats, and how management control reduces the occupancy of target species, particularly during spring. These results illustrate the importance of using season- and species-specific approaches to identify the most important factors influencing the distribution of invasive species in urban environments. Overall, my research highlights the benefits of engaging the public with scientific research, the advantages of using remote cameras to monitor mammals in urban environments and the importance of controlling invasive species at adequate spatial and temporal scales to ensure effective conservation management.