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Nature Behind the Scenes

“If a tree falls in the woods in 2015 it will probably be recorded, and we have another year of surprises to look forward to…”

The great wildlife camera trap tales of 2014

According to my Twitter profile, I have been on social media since 2010.  It seems to me the camera trap really came of age last year as a tool for publishing ecological interactions instantaneously. Perhaps I followed different people in the year, or a few big labs brought their cameras in for the first time, but there was a plethora of cool stuff captured and shared in Australia in 2014.

I am stoked for the new generation of ecologists with these tools at their disposal, capturing moments of ecological interaction that reams of peer-reviewed publications can’t portray in the same way.  Interactions are the essence of ecology, and a picture tells a thousand words.  Here I compile some of the most engaging photos and users of camera traps in Australia – let me know if I have missed anyone…

eagleandfox2014 was a big act to follow, with the late-2013 publication by an honours student of this outrageous moment when a fox and eagle crossed paths on one of Canberra’s hills.


For breadth and quality of mammal interactions in remote locations, one can’t go past Guy Ballard’s @DingoResearch feed.  Four images alone – foxes eating a Greater Glider and a Possum, a feral cat taking a bandicoot home, and a dingo shaking down a swamp wallaby say a great deal about the food-webs and ecological interactions in our forests.  Look-away now school-kids, these ecological interactions are not for the faint-hearted.


Capturing rare animals in remote locations is also an attractive part of camera trapping.  Quolls are a specialty amongst the camera-trap mafia, they are generally a wide-ranging species in low numbers, ideal for the efficiency of remote cameras.  Another special mention here for Guy Ballard and his meerkat Quoll, before we give due attention to the quoll master Trent Forge, who you can follow for all-things quoll…


Some folks have added a touch of cartoon to their camera trap images, to make them especially engaging.  Wombat on Patrol is routinely entertaining, commentating the night-time antics of one of our least-appreciated Australian fauna.  With the humour of the dry Antarctic, the highland wombats and their exploits reach far and wide, like Orwellian Ninjas.


On the serious side, I was fortunate enough to see Dustin Welbourne’s talk at the Ecological Society of Australia conference in Alice last year, and enjoyed his presentation examining the efficacy of camera trapping compared to traditional fauna survey techniques. His images don’t seem to attract the reach of others, yet, but he is certainly capturing a wide array of fauna in a small area.


Many of the camera trappers are #mammalwatching, and I was surprised, with my cursory survey, to find few riparian or aquatic or marine examples. Probably those folk are just moving in different circles and I don’t come across them. However, on the avian front, the Swift Parrot team are doing a great job bringing us imagery of interactions in the canopy, from the endangered and the routine. swiftparrot

A couple of non-for-profit organisations also made telling contributions – with this near-famous bust-up between a Malleefowl and brown snake courtesy of Birdlife Australia and an eagle-selfie from Bush Heritage Australia.


Compilation images are always a treat when served up, and Billy Geary earnt his keep last year scouring thousands of images, to present a concise compendium of big desert fauna.  With a single-species you can also do wonders to present a snap-shot of behaviour, up close and in the dark, like Kate Grarock’s bettong collage from the population at Mulligans Flat.


Camera traps last year also helped reveal the ‘extinct‘ or previously unknown from far-flung places.   Euan Ritchie and the Tenkile team often serve up a plethora of cool stuff in short bursts…


Finally, back to ferals, some of the most important messages to come out of the camera trap fraternity are those related to the impact of feral animals on our native biodiversity.  Euan’s shared image of a cat taking a phascogale, with a short simple description and acknowledgement, was the farthest-reaching (most broadly shared) image I encountered…


And the encouragement award for 2014 goes to @Redfoxmeek for his Big Red Kangaroo – at least he went on to publish a text book on the topic! C’mon State Government ecologists, we know you are sitting on a plethora of cool stuff – start sharing to promote caring!!!


In summary…

Great images of ecological interactions, those that tell a story in a single moment, are dynamite for communicating broadly with immediate impact.

It is interesting to consider how the future of ecological science, its practice and interpretation, will be influenced by the ‘unveiling’ of nature behind the scenes, when people are not present (although pitfall traps do this in a sense too). There is certainly something compelling in seeing glimpses of nature that people were not meant to see – it is a bit sneaky, yes, but also very important for our understanding of how nature works sans  humans

If a tree falls in the woods in 2015 its likely it will be recorded, and we have another year of surprises to look forward to…

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