This week we have a guest post from herpetologist and Zooniverse volunteer Steve Allain (find him as “The Newt Guy” on Zooniverse), who has used Snapshot Serengeti data (available here) to dig a little deeper into our little-studied reptiles. Steve is a zoology graduate from Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge and has a particular passion and focus on British amphibian and reptile species. He is the current chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian & Reptile Group (CPARG) where he helps to organise and coordinate a number of amphibian and reptile surveys around the county to map the distribution of amphibians within Cambridgeshire. More recently Steve has joined the IUCN SSC Amphibian Red Listing Authority as an intern.
In the summer of 2014 I visited Tanzania and went on a tour of the north of the country visiting such places as Arusha, Mount Meru, Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti. Before I went, I prepared myself for the wildlife I would encounter by helping out with the Snapshot Serengeti project. As a herpetologist (someone that studies amphibians and reptiles) I was not familiar with the mammalian fauna of Africa apart from the large and obvious animals that you are taught as a child. When I was in Africa, the identification skills I’d learnt through helping with the project really did pay off when it came to narrowing what species we had seen.
Recently I was reading a scientific paper regarding the monitoring of Komodo dragons using camera traps; this is an unusual method as reptiles generally don’t trigger camera traps due to their biology. I pondered some thoughts for a while and then it suddenly dawned on me that I knew of a project that had recently published a large amount of data from which I could filter out when reptiles had been captured by the camera traps. I decided to get in contact with some of the people involved with Snapshot Serengeti to help me get started.
One of the main questions that I have is when is the most likely time to capture a reptile on a camera trap, be it a snake or a lizard etc.? Is it in the morning or the afternoon? With the data published by the Snapshot Serengeti project I have been investigating this by first identifying all of the trapping events which contain reptiles. The original project identified 131 events which have been a good baseline to work from but with some extra digging I have identified another 120 events and I’m only just getting started.
Once I have a list of all of the trapping events, I intend to collate the data relating to my first question using time stamps as well as identifying which species are present. There are other questions which I am still formulating and so far most of the animals I’ve managed to identify have been species of rock lizard which like to bask on rocks and outcrops called kopjes. I’m hoping that my findings will be able to inform scientists in the future about the possibilities of using camera traps for studying the behaviour and distribution of reptiles over a large area.
We know you’re eager to get back to classifying wildebeest and other crazy critters, and good news is that Meredith has recently returned from the field with the next instalment of Snapshot Serengeti! So get ready! But we’re still in the process of uploading the photographs, checking timestamps, and doing all the other tedious but necessary pre-processing, and it will be a few more weeks before we get the next season online.
So while you’re waiting, why not checkout the Zooniverse’s newest camera trapping project: Wildcam Gorongosa?
Nestled in nearby Mozambique, Wildcam Gorongosa was developed as a joint effort between the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Biointeractive Program, the Gorongosa Restoration Project, and, of course, the Zooniverse. Previously decimated by almost 20 years of civil war, Gorongosa National Park wildlife is rebounding thanks to an enormous conservation initiative. As part of that initiative, researchers have set out a grid of cameras, much like ours in the Serengeti. And now they need your help to identify the animals caught on their cameras. While many of the animals present in Gorongosa are the same as in Serengeti, they also have some critters we don’t: otters, nyala, oribi, and – my personal favorite – African wild dogs.
Zooniverse is currently looking for a front-end developer to join the Oxford team. The key aim of the position is to help build data querying and visualization tools for educators and researchers, and, well, everyone, to better explore and engage with data from Snapshot Serengeti-style projects.
More details can be found here.
We are accepting applications *now* until August 10, so please share this with anyone you know who might be interested.
Can’t get enough of these gnarly gnus? Head on over to our new spinoff project, Wildebeest Watch!
In collaboration with Dr Andrew Berdhal from the Santa Fe Institute, and Dr Allison Shaw at the University of Minnesota, we are taking a closer look at what the wildebeest are doing in the Snapshot Serengeti images to try and better understand the details of the world’s largest mammal migration.
Every year, 1.3 million wildebeest chase the rain and fresh grass growth down from the northern edge of the ecosystem down to the short grass plains in the southeast. We have a broad-scale understanding of where they are moving across the landscape, but don’t understand how they make these detailed decisions of where and when to move on a moment-to-moment basis. Wildebeest as individuals aren’t known for being particularly smart — so we want to know how they use the “wisdom of the crowd” to make herd-level decisions that get them where they need to go.
So while you’re waiting for more photos of lions, hyenas, and other sharp-toothed beasts, why not wander over to Wildebeest Watch to help us understand the collective social behavior of these countless critters?
Champagne corks will be popping tonight. Snapshot Serengeti’s first peer reviewed scientific publication comes out today in Nature’s Scientific Data journal. Please give yourselves a round of applause, because we’d never have been able to do this without you.
The paper is a “data descriptor” instead of a traditional research article, meaning that we describe the detailed methods that led to the Snapshot Serengeti consensus dataset. In addition to describing all the excrutiating details of how we set the cameras in the field, we talk about the design of Snapshot Serengeti, setting retirement rules and aggregation algorithms to combine all of our answers into a single expert-quality dataset. We don’t talk about the cool ecological results just yet (those are still only published in my dissertation), but we do talk about all the cool things we hope the dataset will lead to. The dataset is publicly available here. Anyone can use it — to ask ecological questions about Serengeti species, evaluate better aggregation algorithms for citizen science research, or — we get this a lot — use the images plus consensus data to train and test better computer recognition algorithms.
Feel free to download the dataset and explore the data on your own. We’d love to hear what you find!
Good news: thanks to funding from National Geographic, we’re heading back out to Tanzania with some new camera traps for Snapshot Serengeti!
It’s a bit short notice, but I’ll be heading back out to the field in just under two weeks to dive back into camera maintenance and data collection. I’ve been frantically ordering field equipment and gathering together all the supplies I need in Serengeti, including 50 cameras and what feels like twice my weight in rechargeable batteries. I’ll be adding new cameras back in to the grid to replace those that have been damaged or stolen, in addition to following up on some playback experiments I conducted last summer and continuing to monitor changes in the habitat around each of our camera sites. Some new data that we’ll be picking up this year include examining changes in the soil quality throughout the camera trap set-up and characterizing diversity in the plant communities in the immediate vicinity of our camera traps. Both of these factors contribute to forage quality for our ungulates and affect how appealing a particular site is for different animal species. I might even attempt to collect samples of dung (ah, the glamour of field work) from around our cameras to see whether we’re actually catching in our photos all the animals hanging out in these areas.
After a few months in Tanzania, I’ll be heading down to South Africa to conduct additional experiments in a small private reserve in the Kalahari. Look forward to updates from the field, and wish me luck!
We’re partnering with National Geographic to put together a photo book of animal selfies from Snapshot Serengeti. We’ve got some selfies already from the first seven seasons, but because no one has looked through Season 8 yet, we don’t know what great selfies might be in there.
You can help! If you find an animal selfie, please tag it as #selfie in Talk. (Click the ‘Discuss’ button after you’ve classified the image and then enter #selfie below the image on the Talk page. You can get back to classifying using the button in the upper right.)
All proceeds from book sales will go to supporting Snapshot Serengeti. We’re planning for a fall 2016 publication date, so it will be a while. But we’re excited to get working on it.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for … Can I present to you:
I’m particularly proud of this, the first season that I’ve helped to bring all the way from the field to your computers. We’ve got a lot of data here, and I can’t wait for you guys to discover a whole host of exciting things in this new season.
This season is accompanied by IMPORTANT changes to our interface!
There’s a few more bits of data we think we can pull out of the camera trap photos this time around, in addition to all the great information we already get. One thing we’re particularly interested in is the occurrence of fire. Now, fire is no fun for camera traps (because they tend to melt), but these wildfires are incredibly important to the cycle of ecosystem functioning in Serengeti. Burns refresh the soil and encourage new grass growth, which attracts herbivores and may in turn draw in the predators. We have added a fire checkbox for you to tick if things look hot. Now, because we’re looking for things other than just animals, we replaced your option to click on “nothing there” with “no animals visible“, just to avoid confusion.
Some of the more savvy creature-identifiers among you may have noticed that there are a few Serengeti animals that wander into our pictures that we didn’t have options for. For this new season, we’ve added six new animal choices: duiker, steenbok, cattle, bat, insect/spider, and vultures. Keep an eye out for the following:
This season runs all the way from September 2013 until July 2014, when I retrieved them this summer, my first field season. Our field assistants, Norbert and Daniel, were invaluable (and inhumanly patient) in helping me learn to navigate the plains, ford dry river beds, and avoid, as much as possible, driving the truck into too many holes. Together, we set out new cameras, patched up some holes in our camera trap grid, and spent some amazing nights camped out in the bush.
Once I got the hang of the field, I spend my mornings running around to a subset of the cameras conducting a pilot playback experiment to see if I could artificially “elevate” the predation risk in an area by making it seem as though it were frequented by lions (I’m interested in the reactions of the lion’s prey, and to see whether they change their behaviors in these areas and how long it takes them to go back to normal). I’m more than a bit camera-shy (and put a lot of effort into carefully sneaking up around the cameras’ blind spots) but perhaps you’ll catch a rare glimpse of me waving my bullhorn around blaring lion roars…
Back in the lab, there’s been a multi-continental collaboration to get these data cleaned up and ready for identification. We’ve been making some changes to the way we store our data, and the restructuring, sorting, and preparing process has been possible only through the substantial efforts of Margaret, over here with me in the States, and Ali, all the way across the pond, running things from the Zooniverse itself!
But for now, our hard work on this season is over – it’s your turn! Dig in!
P.S. Our awesome developers have added some fancy code, so the site looks great even on small phone and tablet screens. Check it out!