Cost-effectiveness of thermal imaging for monitoring a cryptic arboreal mammal

Date: 18, Jun, 2021
Author(s):   Pocknee, C.A., Lahoz-Monfort, J.J., Martin, R.W., Wintle, B.A.
Publisher: Wildlife Research

Context: The development of reliable and cost-efficient survey techniques is key to the monitoring of all wildlife. One group of species that presents particular challenges for monitoring is the arboreal mammals. Traditional techniques for detecting these species often yield low detection probabilities (detectability) and are time-consuming, suggesting the potential for novel methods to enhance our understanding of their distribution, abundance and population trajectories. One technique that has been shown to increase detectability in a range of terrestrial species is thermal imaging, although it has rarely been applied to arboreal species. The true conservation status of Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi) is uncertain because of low detectability under typical survey techniques, and a more suitable method is required to enable effective monitoring of the species, making it an ideal candidate for the present study.

Aims: We aimed to compare the success and cost-effectiveness of surveys utilising thermal imaging with two traditional methods, namely, spotlighting and daytime surveys, so as to optimise monitoring of D. lumholtzi.

Methods: We conducted surveys at 10 sites in Queensland (Australia) where D. lumholtzi was known to occur, by using each method, and modelled both the detectability of D. lumholtzi and the cost-effectiveness of each technique.

Key results: Detectability of D. lumholtzi was significantly higher with the use of thermal imaging than it was with the other survey methods, and thermal detection is more cost-effective. In average survey conditions with a trained observer, the single-visit estimated detectability of D. lumholtzi was 0.28 [0.04, 0.79] in a transect through rainforest, by using thermal imaging. Using only spotlights, the detection probability was 0.03 [0, 0.28] under the same conditions.

Conclusions: These results show that incorporating thermal technology into monitoring surveys will greatly increase detection probability for D. lumholtzi, a cryptic arboreal mammal.

Implications: Our study highlighted the potential utility of thermal detection in monitoring difficult-to-detect species in complex habitats, including species that exist mainly in dense forest canopy.