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Camera Trapping Scavenging Vertebrates of the Chiriquì Province of Western Panama

Shem D. Unger1*, Caleb R. Hickman2, and Kevin L. Murray3

1Biology Department, Wingate University, Bridges Science Building, Wingate, NC 28174, USA. 2Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, 1840 Painttown Road., PO Box 1747, Cherokee, NC 28719, USA. 3Western Ecosystems Technology, 408 W 6th Street, Bloomington, IN 47404, USA. *Corresponding author.

Neotropical Naturalist, No. 1 (2020)

Abstract
We evaluated the efficacy of short-term baited camera trapping surveys to assess the presence of scavenging vertebrate wildlife in the high elevation mountainous and low elevation coastal areas of the Chiriquì province, western Panama, in January 2018. We detected a total of 12 species on camera traps, including 10 mammals and two birds. The most commonly encountered species across both sites was Didelphis marsupialis (Common Opossum). Bassariscus sumichrasti (Cacomistle) was the second-most dominant species in high elevation sites, while Matachirus nudicaudatus (Brown Four-eyed Opossum) was the second-most common vertebrate at low elevation sites. Other mammals detected during the study included Dasyprocta punctata, (Agouti), Marmosa isthmica (Isthmian Mouse Opossum), Scotinomys xerapelinus (Chiriquì Brown Mouse), Cuniculus paca (Lowland Paca), Nasua narica (White-nosed Coati), Dasypus novemcinctus (Nine-banded Armadillo), and Canis latrans (Coyote). Only two bird species were observed, Rupornis magnirostris (Roadside Hawk) and Cathartes aura (Turkey Vulture). Species activity patterns were predominantly nocturnal (70.9%) with similar Shannon diversity indexes observed of 1.943 and 1.823, for high and low elevation sites, respectively, across 965.6 camera hours, or 40.2 trap days. This report provides baseline data on potential vertebrate scavengers of the Chiriquì province, an area experiencing increasing development and potential loss of habitat connectivity for many Neotropical species.

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Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 1 2020 NEOTROPICAL NATURALIST 1:1–9 Camera Trapping Scavenging Vertebrates of the Chiriquì Province of Western Panama Shem D. Unger1*, Caleb R. Hickman2, and Kevin L. Murray3 Abstract - We evaluated the efficacy of short-term baited camera trapping surveys to assess the presence of scavenging vertebrate wildlife in the high elevation mountainous and low elevation coastal areas of the Chiriquì province, western Panama, in January 2018. We detected a total of 12 species on camera traps, including 10 mammals and two birds. The most commonly encountered species across both sites was Didelphis marsupialis (Common Opossum). Bassariscus sumichrasti (Cacomistle) was the second-most dominant species in high elevation sites, while Matachirus nudicaudatus (Brown Four-eyed Opossum) was the second-most common vertebrate at low elevation sites. Other mammals detected during the study included Dasyprocta punctata, (Agouti), Marmosa isthmica (Isthmian Mouse Opossum), Scotinomys xerapelinus (Chiriquì Brown Mouse), Cuniculus paca (Lowland Paca), Nasua narica (White-nosed Coati), Dasypus novemcinctus (Nine-banded Armadillo), and Canis latrans (Coyote). Only two bird species were observed, Rupornis magnirostris (Roadside Hawk) and Cathartes aura (Turkey Vulture). Species activity patterns were predominantly nocturnal (70.9%) with similar Shannon diversity indexes observed of 1.943 and 1.823, for high and low elevation sites, respectively, across 965.6 camera hours, or 40.2 trap days. This report provides baseline data on potential vertebrate scavengers of the Chiriquì province, an area experiencing increasing development and potential loss of habitat connectivi ty for many Neotropical species. Introduction Tropical forests are threatened with increasing fragmentation and deforestation (Brinck et al. 2017, Potapov et al. 2013). Moreover, across Neotropical ecosystems in Central America, native forest vegetation is being increasingly converted for agricultural use (Baltensperger and Brown 2015, Laurance et al. 2014). Mammals inhabiting these environments may play important ecological roles, yet are often restricted to protected habitats (Ripple et al. 2015). Among these ecological roles, scavenging, the use of carrion or dead organisms by vertebrates and invertebrates, has been recently recognized as an important ecological process and important potential food source for many mammals and birds (Beasley et al 2015, Devault et al. 2003). In areas lacking protected reserves or conservation properties, as once contiguous forests become remnant forests, these areas may provide the only vestige of viable habitat remaining in many tropical communities and should be included in surveying for mammals. This is the case in Panama, where increased fragmentation and anthropogenic pressure is threatening species (Meyer et al. 2015, Moreno 1993). Therefore, assessing methods for baseline surveys in understudied areas, e.g., private lands, remains an important goal given the potential for loss of biodiversity in remaining Neotropical habitats. Camera trap surveys have become an increasingly affordable and effective tool to survey for biodiversity, of primarily mammal populations (Rovero et al. 2014, Rowcliffe and Carbone 2008, Wearn and Glover-Kapger 2019). In some cases they provide similar, if not more precise, measures of relative abundance than more traditional live trapping surveys (Wearn and Glover-Kapfer 2019). Moreover, non-invasive camera trapping in tropical environments allows for ease of species identification, insight into activity patterns, and collection of environmental data measured by cameras, e.g. time, 1Biology Department, Wingate University, Bridges Science Building, Wingate, NC 28174, USA. 2Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, 1840 Painttown Road., PO Box 1747, Cherokee, NC 28719, USA. 3Western Ecosystems Technology, 408 W 6th Street, Bloomington, IN 47404, USA. *Corresponding author - s.unger@wingate.edu. Manuscript Editor: Kevina Vulinec Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 2 temperature (Sunarto et al. 2013). Many camera surveys in tropical habitats rely on long deployment times to monitor population or obtain recapture data (Ahumada et al. 2013, Trolliet et al. 2014). Baiting cameras in tropical areas has been suggested as a method for increasing trap success rate (Kays et al. 2011, Wellington et al. 2014) and may allow for shorter survey and species assessments. However, the use of bait in tropical mammal studies may indirectly alter normal activity patterns and requires further study (Duarte et al. 2018). Herein, we assess the use of short-term baited camera trapping to conduct rapid assessments of vertebrate communities in remnant forested sites in western Panama near agricultural and developed areas on private lands. We also report on comparisons between vertebrate relative abundance sampled in high versus low elevation areas and potential mammalian and avian scavengers. We hypothesized relative abundance would differ between these areas, reflecting local home range distributions across species. Methods and Materials Study area. This study was conducted at two locations within Chiriquì province, western Panama (Fig. 1). Site 1 consisted of high elevation primary mountain forest patches (8°49'52''N, 82°36'44''W, elevation = 1630–1840 m) surrounded by agriculture and development near the town of Bambito, while Site 2 consisted of a combination of low elevation coastal cleared land with secondary forest patches predominated by cattle grazing pastures, teak plantations, and development (8°13'2''N, 82°11'2''W, elevation = 14–62 m) near the town of Boca Chica. Both locations are experiencing increasing urban and agricultural development, and remaining forests likely provide important habitat corridors for mammals. The forest type in these areas consists of tropical evergreen/woodland forest (Lyra 2017) in the moist broadleaf forest biome (Reid 2009). Figure 1. Locations of camera trapping, site 1 (high elevation site), and site 2 (low elevation site) in Chiriquì Province, Panama. Image courtesy of Open Street Map and Google Maps. Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 3 Field surveys. We deployed camera traps across 3 km transects covering 55.7 ha of Site 1, and 80.6 ha of Site 2, with vegetation cover area estimated from Google Earth maps (Fig. 1) to maximize area covered for both low and high elevation sites. Each deployment consisted of 4 camera traps per site run simultaneously for 6 days at each location, with Site 1 transect run between 4 and 9 January 2018 and Site 2 transect run between 10 and 15 January 2018 during the “dry” season. Within each transect, we placed cameras ~1000 meters apart to minimize potential resampling of individuals within transects. We used Bushnell Aggressor Trail cameras secured to trees at a height of ~20 cm with keyed locks. Individual cameras were deployed to allow for maximum view, at minimal slope in areas with minimal vegetation obstructing camera view under full forest canopy. Camera settings were as follows: 24 hr recording, infrared and motion capture on, and three pictures per trigger event. We placed locally obtained fish lures (canned sardines) ~2 m directly in front of cameras as bait to increase the likelihood of detection (Thorn et al. 2009) and as a proxy for scavenging, in lieu of carrion (Schwartz et al. 2018). Each camera station was re-baited every 3 days. Temperatures during the deployment period ranged from 21.6–32.2°C to 19.4–32.8°C for high elevation and low elevation, respectively (www.accuweather.com). Camera trap analysis. We calculated the total number of vertebrates observed, the number of capture events (series of encounter photos >30 minutes apart to limit repeat events from the same individual of the same species) of each following Meek et al. (2014) and Obrien et al. (2003) as a measure of relative abundance. Total trap hours were determined by multiplying the total number of deployment hours by the total number of cameras, and this value was divided by 24 to determine total trap days. As our data was not normally distributed, we used a non-parametric Man-Whitney U test to compare standardized capture event frequency across species (number of capture events/1000 camera days) between sites as a standard measure of frequency to account for variation in camera trap deployment and to make our results more comparable to other published studies of longer deployment efforts (Tobler et al. 2008). We calculated a Shannon diversity index and species richness across sites, and described activity periods for camera captures. Identification of species was conducted by analyzing morphological traits in capture images utilizing Eisenberg (1989), Emmons and Feer (1997), Reid (2009), and Ridgeley and Gwynne (1976), and often using multiple images to aid species identification. We also calculated the mean and range of temperatures (from camera images) associated with capture events for all species. We used R version 3.6.2 for all statistical tests (R Core Team 2019). Results In total we collected 4265 images across all trail cameras and locations from 965.6 hours or 40.2 trap days. Trap effort was similar across Site 1 and Site 2, with slightly greater effort at the highland site (550.8 hrs) versus the coastal site (414.8) due to logistical field constraints. We found 12 total species (richness = 12) captured on trail camera images across sites (seven at Site 1 and eight at Site 2; Fig. 2) represented by 141 unique capture events (79 for Site 1, 62 for Site 2), 70.9% of which were nocturnal. The most dominant scavengers encountered across sites were Didelphis marsupialis L. (Common Opossum), comprising 50.3% of capture events at both sites combined (33 and 38 capture events for Sites 1 and Site 2, respectively), and Bassariscus sumichrasti L. (Cacomistle) which was detected only at the high elevation site where it comprised 17.0% of total capture events (24 capture events at Site 1). Activity patterns were highest during nocturnal hours, early evening and night (1900–0500 h), or with some minimal activity during early daylight hours (0600–1200 h) (Fig. 3). The mean number of species captured by cameras differed between low (6.58 ± 3.4 SE) and high (5.17 ± 3.25) elevation sites, but this difference was not significant, (U = 67, P = 0.3974). Average temperature during capture events was 17.4 ± 0.45 °C and ranged from Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 4 8.9–31.7 °C. We noted inter-site differences in the presence of scavengers, with several species only encountered at a single site (Table 1). Across both sites, the Shannon diversity index was 2.3, with values of 1.9 and 1.8 for highland and lowland sites, respectively. Discussion Camera surveys provided an effective rapid assessment tool to collect baseline data on tropical vertebrate communities of Panama Neotropical forests. Previous studies have found similar abundances of mammals (Common Opossum, Agouti, and Nine-banded Armadillo) in other provinces of central Panama (Meyer et al. 2015). Agouti densities have been found to be positively correlated with percentage of primary forest (Duquette et al. 2017), and may explain Agouti and Cacomistle presence at the higher elevation site. Many species observed in this study including Lowland Paca, White-nosed Coati, Common Opossum, and Agouti, showed little preference for camera trap location of either random or trail placement in previous studies (Kays et al. 2011). The cacomistle capture events observed in the present study may indicate this scavenger is more frequently encountered at higher elevations, as we did not detect it in any coastal lowland site (Goldman 1920). Our observation of a Coyote at our lowland site provides further evidence of their presence in western Panama, thought to represent more recently expanded geographic range for the species, partially utilizing newly deforested areas (Hidalgo-Mihart et al. 2004, Hody 2016). The activity patterns we observed were largely consistent with other studies. Cacomistles as generalist feeders have been found to be most active at 1800 h to 0300 h, and have home ranges of 19.8 ha found in secondary forests (Garcia et al. 2002). Most interestingly, we documented several observations of a pair of Cacomistles in the highland site, indicating the benefit of camera traps to Figure 2. Representative images across all sites from capture events showing dominant vertebrates, the Lowland paca (upper left), Common opossum (upper right), and Cacomistle (lower left) and Turkey vulture (lower right). Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 5 Figure 3. Activity patterns of capture events across military time periods across all trap locations and sample events in Chiriquì Province, Panama. Table 1. Number of capture events for each species encountered in mountain high elevation (Site 1), and coastal low elevation (Site 2), total encounters and percent of total encounters. Common name Species Order Highland mountains site 1 Coastal lowlands site 2 Total % Common Opossum Didelphis marsupialis Didelphimorphia 33 38 71 50.4 Cacomistle Bassariscus sumichrasti Carnivora 24 0 24 17.0 Agouti Dasyprocta punctata Rodentia 16 1 17 12.1 Brown Four-eyed Opossum Matachirus nudicaudatus Didelphimorphia 0 10 10 7.1 Isthmian Mouse Opossum Marmosa isthmica Didelphimorphia 2 4 6 4.3 Chiriqui Brown Mouse Scotinomys xerapelinus Rodentia 0 6 6 4.3 Lowland Paca Cuniculus paca Rodentia 2 0 2 1.4 White-nosed Coati Nasua narica Carnivora 1 0 1 0.7 Nine-banded Armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus Cingulata 1 0 1 0.7 Coyote Canis latrans Carnivora 0 1 1 0.7 Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura Accipitriformes 0 1 1 0.7 Roadside Hawk Rupornis magnirostris Accipitriformes 0 1 1 0.7 Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 6 study social behavior and interactions involving either siblings, juvenile and adults, or breeding pairs in this lesser studied tropical mammal, which is either rare to uncommonly encountered, or characterized by a patchy distribution (Goldman 1920, Reid 2009). Moreover, we observed the Common Opossum to have nocturnal crepuscular activity patterns similar for those observed for Didelphis in other tropical forests (Oliveira-Santos et al. 2008) as they are known to be frugivores and omnivores (Robinson and Redford 1986). Future research should emphasize differences between seasons as previous studies have found some effect of rainy versus dry season for removal of carcasses in tropical ecosystems (Villegas-Patraca et al. 2012). However baiting cameras may bias or confound observations of normal (non-baited) animal activity patterns, so future work should compare methods of baited versus unbaited activity patterns of Neotropical mammals. We detected many potential scavengers on camera traps not normally associated as scavenging mammals, including several instances of Lowland Paca and Agouti, both primarily frugivores, during diurnal periods (Reid 2009). Within Neotropical areas, the role of scavengers has received less attention relative to studies of scavenging in other geographic areas, with facultative scavenging by predators being largely ignored in food web ecology studies (Moleon et al. 2014, Wilson and Wolkovich 2011). Additional camera trap studies should be conducted in tropical areas on different bait types and validate if sardines are an adequate proxy for carrion, as species encounters may differ between fresh fish and decaying carrion. This short-term study provides further evidence of how camera trapping can elucidate species presence and baseline species frequencies in a variety of Neotropical habitats to inform mammal conservation with little financial or temporal investment. These findings in terms of species presence are comparable to other more prolonged studies of camera trapping Neotropical mammals, for which camera deployment strategies vary (Table 2). While we documented the Common Opossum as a tropical scavenging mammal across both high and low elevation sites, we noted differences in relative frequencies in other mammals, with the Cacomistle and Agouti detected more frequently at higher elevations. Our findings indicate the frequency of functional mammalian scavengers may be a result of either present species range distributions, variations in species ability to persist in secondary forests, differences in species detection, or other factors. Table 2. Comparisons of this study to other camera trapping studies of mammals in Neotropical regions, including location of study, species observed, study length, relative abundance (reported when available), camera traps used and primary habitat (disturbed or undisturbed). Citation Location Species Observed Study Length Relative Abundance Cameras Traps Used Habitat Current study Western Panama 12 <1 month 139 4 disturbed Meyer et al. 2015 Eastern and Central Panama 12–31 9 years — 16–30 undisturbed Springer et al. 2012 Central Panama 16 5 months 306 20 undisturbed Rowcliffe et al. 2011 Central Panama 19 12 months 1555 20 undisturbed Tobler et al. 2008 Southeastern Peru 27 2 years 814 24–40 undisturbed/ disturbed Harmsen et al. 2010 Central Belize 10 2.5 years — 110 undisturbed/ disturbed Ahumada et al. 2013 Western Costa Rica 26 5 years — 56–60 undisturbed Neotropical Naturalist S. Unger, C. Hickman, and K. Murray 2020 No. 1 7 Our results highlight the need for further study or rapid biological assessment approaches in secondary forested habitats when surveying tropical mammals outside of protected areas, including private lands. When taken together, trail cameras appear to be ideal for collecting baseline data on Neotropical vertebrate scavenger communities under threat of increasing deforestation and development. Acknowledgements We thank La Fundaciòn Kucikas for support, access to study site, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for animal care and use approval and permitting (STRI 2018-0222-2021). All research was conducted on private land. We also thank Wingate University Biology Department for supplies and travel funding (2018 WINGS grant) Literature Cited Ahumada, J.A., J. Hurtado, and D. Lizcano. 2013. Monitoring the status and trends of tropical forest terrestrial vertebrate communities from camera trap data: A tool for conservation. PLoS ONE 8:e73707. Baltensperger, A.P., C.L. Brown. 2015. Mammalian biodiversity conservation at two biological stations in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Pp. 351–389, In F. Huettmann (Ed.). 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