Camera trap study reveals the hidden lives of island carnivores

December 21, 2018

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Researchers placed 160 cameras on 19 of the 22 Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin to see which carnivores were living there. After taking more than 200,000 photos over a period of three years, the team discovered that several mammalian predators are living on various islands in this remote archipelago in Lake Superior.

Reported in the journal Community Ecology, the study reveals a thriving community of carnivores, with some doing better than others on islands that differ in size and proximity to the mainland.

The researchers put motion-activated cameras on each of the islands studied, at a density of one camera per square kilometer. Over time, the camera traps recorded 10 of 12 Wisconsin land carnivores, including American martens, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, fishers, gray foxes, gray wolves, raccoons, red foxes and weasels. The cameras also captured images of semiaquatic carnivores mink and river otters, as well as raptors, small rodents, squirrels, songbirds and waterfowl.

"This is one of the first studies to focus on the carnivore community in an island system," said Illinois Natural History Survey wildlife ecologist Max Allen, who led the new research with Morgan Farmer and Tim Van Deelen at the University of Wisconsin, and Erik Olson from Northland College. "The area is remote and difficult to access, with rough water in summer and variable ice conditions in winter, so the carnivore community had never been studied."

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The research offers new insights into a phenomenon known as island biogeography, which describes the distribution and diversity of species in territories with distinct boundaries that can act as obstacles to inward and outward migration.

"Most research on island biogeography has been conducted in tropical marine systems that have innately high levels of biodiversity and few carnivores," Allen said. The new study is unique in that it examines carnivores in a remote island system in a temperate locale, he said.

"We were surprised to find an intact carnivore community - including gray wolves and American martens - on these islands," Allen said. "We found more carnivore species on islands that were larger and/or closer to the mainland."

Black bears were found on 13 of the islands examined. They appeared to prefer bigger islands that were closer to other islands. Gray wolves, however, were seen only on one of the 19 islands studied. These differences may have to do with the animals' diets and habits. Bears tend to be solitary and eat a variety of foods, while wolves are social, with more specialized diets. The latter tend to prey on ungulates like deer.

The researchers were surprised to find that some smaller carnivores, such as weasels and American martens, appeared to prefer life on islands further from the mainland.

The carnivores may swim from island to island or use ice bridges that form in winter between the islands. Documented declines in the duration of lake ice as a result of climate change may hinder the movement of carnivores between islands and to and from the mainland, Allen said.

"The study offers a first glimpse of the top predators making a living on the Apostle Islands," Allen said. "It's pretty exciting to be the first to document species in an area, especially a wild and remote piece of land in the National Park Service."
-end-
Editor's Notes:

To reach Max Allen, email maxallen@illinois.edu.

The paper "Is there anybody out there? Occupancy of the carnivore guild in a temperate archipelago" is available to members of the media from the U. of I. News Bureau.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.