PITTSBURG — A professor and her students at Pittsburg State University are partnering with the Smithsonian Institution as part of a nationwide project to collect data on mammal diversity.
On Thursday, Dr. Christine Brodsky and several of her students from the PSU Biology Department were busy setting up wildlife camera traps, which are motion-activated to capture images of animals walking past. The two cameras set up Thursday were the last of 10 total that Brodsky and her team have set up at discreet locations throughout the Pittsburg area.
Last semester, as part of Brodsky’s urban ecology class, PSU student Caleb Durbin set up four camera traps to observe wildlife in environments ranging from urban locations in Pittsburg to rural areas nearby.
His findings, which were posted to PSU’s Digital Commons, a service of the Office of Graduate and Continuing Studies and Library Services at the university, were noticed by Mike Cove at the Smithsonian.
“He’s doing a nationwide camera trap survey,” Durbin said, “and he saw ours, and so he asked me and Dr. Brodsky if we wanted to be part of the nationwide survey, and we didn’t say no.”
The project, called Snapshot USA, is working with one university each from all 50 states to collect data on mammals living in their local areas.
“We’ll all run our cameras for the months of September and October and then we’ll look at all the data and do some nationwide analyses and get some journal publications out of it,” Brodsky said.
Getting a snapshot of which animals live where “helps us to better understand the associations of these species with different habitats,” Brodsky said.
“The really cool thing with this is it’s a really easy way to collect data. It’s not time-intensive. Usually with other studies we have to go out and do trapping and sampling. It’s really stressful for the animals. This is very hands-off, and with this approach a lot of these camera trap studies look at endangered species, so we’ll get — maybe, who knows? — a cool species to come by the camera, and we’re not disturbing it in any way or the habitat,” she said.
“So it’s a really simple, straightforward approach to studying mammals here, and it will inform our understanding of Pittsburg, the type of biodiversity we have here, maybe some ways that we can enhance that diversity, looking at what kind of habitat features they’re responding to and looking at that nationwide.”
Brodsky said one aspect of the study that could yield interesting results will be, similar to Durbin’s project last spring, the possibility of seeing whether the kinds of animals found in Pittsburg’s wooded areas are the same kinds that are often seen in the urban environment, or whether less commonly seen or endangered species might get their images captured on camera.
“I bet more than half our pictures will be deer, because we’ve already been seeing a lot of deer prints, so they’re definitely here,” Brodsky said, adding that squirrels, raccoons, coyotes and foxes are common local mammals likely to be caught on camera as part of the project. Brodsky said both red foxes and gray foxes could be detected, although red foxes are more commonly seen.
“Maybe we’ll get a few skunks,” Brodsky said. “If we get really lucky we would see a spotted skunk." The eastern spotted skunk is listed as threatened in Kansas. "So if we get a spotted skunk, man, that’s going to blow them out of the water,” Brodsky said.
Besides Durbin, other students involved in the Snapshot USA project include Brady Taylor, a PSU senior majoring in field and environmental biology, and two exchange students from the National University of Asunción in Paraguay, Sol Corvalan and Ximena Bogarin, who are both juniors majoring in environmental engineering. Because of the relatively short length of the Snapshot USA study, Corvalan and Bogarin will be able to participate in the entire project during their semester studying at PSU before returning to Paraguay in December.
“They’ve been so enthusiastic about getting involved in the research while they’re here,” Brodsky, “so I’m really happy that they could be part of this project.”
The City of Pittsburg is also assisting with Snapshot USA.
“PSU needed a place to deploy these camera traps — actually not just one place but multiple places — and so PSU partnered with the city on locations that Dr. Brodsky kind of scouted out and deemed appropriate, where they’d be likely to see both humans and wildlife, and so the city agreed to let us use their property for that project,” said Andra Stefanoni, director of media relations at PSU.
Once the sampling period of the project in complete, the public will be able to view photos taken in Pittsburg as part of PSU’s involvement in Snapshot USA on the Smithsonian’s eMammal website (https://emammal.si.edu).