Night of the hunter: using cameras to quantify nocturnal activity in desert spiders

Date: 01, Feb, 2021
Author(s):   Potter, T.I., Greenville, A.C., Dickman, C.R.
Publisher: PeerJ

Invertebrates dominate the animal world in terms of abundance, diversity and biomass, and play critical roles in maintaining ecosystem function. Despite their obvious importance, disproportionate research attention remains focused on vertebrates, with knowledge and understanding of invertebrate ecology still lacking. Due to their inherent advantages, usage of camera traps in ecology has risen dramatically over the last three decades, especially for research on mammals. However, few studies have used cameras to reliably detect fauna such as invertebrates or used cameras to examine specific aspects of invertebrate ecology. Previous research investigating the interaction between wolf spiders (Lycosidae: Lycosa spp.) and the lesser hairy-footed dunnart (Sminthopsis youngsoni) found that camera traps provide a viable method for examining temporal activity patterns and interactions between these species. Here, we re-examine lycosid activity to determine whether these patterns vary with different environmental conditions, specifically between burned and unburned habitats and the crests and bases of sand dunes, and whether cameras are able to detect other invertebrate fauna. Twenty-four cameras were deployed over a 3-month period in an arid region in central Australia, capturing 2,356 confirmed images of seven invertebrate taxa, including 155 time-lapse images of lycosids. Overall, there was no clear difference in temporal activity with respect to dune position or fire history, but twice as many lycosids were detected in unburned compared to burned areas. Despite some limitations, camera traps appear to have considerable utility as a tool for determining the diel activity patterns and habitat use of larger arthropods such as wolf spiders, and we recommend greater uptake in their usage in future.