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. Dan Linden (Statistician, NOAA) 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 4-15, 2018


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia

Application Procedure

This course is now full. Check back here for 2019 dates which we hope to confirm by summer 2018.

Course Costs

Payment Deadline: April 9, 2018. Note that your acceptance to the course does not guarantee you a seat in the course. Seats are allocated as registration payments are received, and early registration is strongly encouraged to ensure your space in the course.

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 the Sunday evening before the course begins. Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before 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 after the course ends, 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. A single room housing and dining package is available for $1261.00)


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.

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