MCCS 0524: Camera Trapping Study Design and Data Analysis for Occupancy and Density Estimation

Camera trap photo of a jaguar (Panthera onca) from the Peruvian Amazon.

Camera trap photo of a jaguar (Panthera onca) from the Peruvian Amazon.

Camera traps have become a critical field tool in ecology and conservation, particularly in the study of medium- to large-sized mammals. While the set-up and operation of most camera traps is relatively straightforward, proper study design and analysis for projects relying on camera traps can be a significant challenge, particularly as new approaches like spatially-explicit capture-recapture (SCR) analyses become standard. This course is designed to provide a strong theoretical and analytical background to both graduate students and professionals in the use of camera traps to address ecological and conservation-oriented questions including the estimation of animal abundance, density and occupancy, and the monitoring of population trends over time.

The course will begin with an introduction to camera trapping, a review of the questions that can and cannot be answered with this technique, and an overview of applications in the field with selected case studies. This will be followed by at least a full day on data management, which can easily overwhelm staff and students on large projects, including a summary and overview of the available database approaches and software options. The rest of the course will be divided into 2 major sections of approximately 4 days each covering: 1) Occupancy Modeling, and 2) Density Estimation. Each section will begin with a detailed look at study design principles and pitfalls. At least two full days in each module will be spent importing and analyzing real field data using the state-of-the-art approaches. Additional foci will include: 1) the limits and biases inherent in analyzing and reporting camera capture rates; 2) considerations for cost-effective monitoring of population trends. Time will be allotted during the course to allow participants to work on their own data sets with the guidance of instructors, so participants are strongly encouraged to bring their data sets with them if available.

Estimated density surface for tigers in Nagarahole Reserve, India using camera trap data and a spatial capture-recapture modeling approach.

Estimated density surface for tigers in Nagarahole Reserve, India, using camera trap data and a spatial capture-recapture modeling approach.

Advanced techniques in each program will be demonstrated based on participant interest. Participants will leave the course with a detailed list of available resources, in both print and online, to assist in the use of more advanced techniques. Those arriving with their own data should make significant progress in the preparation and analysis of that data during the course.

A range of software applications will be taught during the course. Occupancy modeling will be taught in the program PRESENCE although the R package “unmarked” will also be demonstrated. Density estimation will rely heavily on various R packages (primarily oSCR) as well as the program JAGS (for doing Bayesian analysis). Pre-course work will be required for all those not familiar with the program R, which will be used heavily in the class. Required exercises will be sent over email to participants at least 1 month before attending the course. It is essential that all participants arrive to the course with a basic familiarity with working in the R environment.

Occupancy modeling will be taught by Dr. James Nichols (Senior Scientist, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center) and Jim Hines (Computer Specialist, USGS-Patuxent); SCR analyses will be led by Dr. Andy Royle (Research Statistician, USGS-Patuxent) and Dr. Chris Sutherland (Assistant Professor of Quantitative, Population, and Spatial Ecology, University of Massachusetts) with additional instruction provided by Dr. Joe Kolowski (Research Scientist, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute).

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June 19-30, 2017


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia

Application Procedure

Camera Trapping Study Design and Data Analysis is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course for 6 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Applications should be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV, and a Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 500 words). You’ll be asked to attach these with your application.

For first consideration, apply before April 10, 2017

Course Costs

Payment Deadline: April 24, 2017

The total cost for this course is $2,925.50 (Course fee of $2100 + Housing and Dining Package of $825.50). Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $1200, making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $2,025.50. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual, textbooks and other course materials
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off. Participants should plan to arrive to Dulles International Airport (IAD). Shuttle pick-up date at Dulles Airport will be Sunday, June 18, and time will be 4:30pm (16:30h). Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before (June 17) and book into overnight accommodation in the Dulles-Washington, DC vicinity, so they can meet this Sunday afternoon shuttle. Otherwise a taxi can be arranged for approximately $100. Our drop-off shuttle departs from SMSC (to IAD) on Saturday July 1 at 8am.
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons – Dining begins with dinner on day of arrival and breakfast on day of departure.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost).


Local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.

For more information