Welbourne, Claridge, Paull, Ford (2020) Camera-traps are a cost-effective method for surveying terrestrial squamates: A comparison with artificial refuges and pitfall traps PloS one 15(1) e0226913
Fundamental data on the distributions, diversity, and threat status of terrestrial snakes and lizards (hereafter squamates) is limited. This is due to the cryptic nature of species in this faunal group, and to limitations in the effectiveness of the survey methods used to detect these species. Camera-traps are a useful tool for detecting numerous vertebrate species, yet their use for detecting squamates has been limited. Here, we apply recent methodological advancements in camera-trapping and assessed the utility of camera-traps for inventorying a squamate assemblage by comparing camera-trapping survey results with two widely used labour-intensive methods: artificial refuges and pitfall traps. We conducted a 74-day survey using camera-traps and, concurrently, four by four-day surveys using labour-intensive methods. Given the duration and three detection methods, we compared seven variants of survey protocol, including using each method alone or all methods simultaneously. We compared both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of each survey protocol by estimating the number of species detected at the transect level, and by calculating the costs of conducting those surveys. We found the camera-trapping survey was most cost-effective, costing 687 AUD (CI 534-912) per squamate species detected, compared with the 2975 AUD (CI 2103-4486) per squamate species detected with the labour-intensive methods. Using all methods together was less cost-effective than using camera-traps alone. Additionally, there was a 99% probability that camera-traps would detect more species per transect than the labour-intensive methods examined. By focusing the analysis at the level of the survey, rather than the level of the device, camera-traps are both a more effective and cost-effective technique for surveying terrestrial squamates. Where circumstances are appropriate, those wildlife researchers and managers currently using camera-traps for non-squamate surveys, can adopt the methods presented to incorporate squamate surveys with little upfront cost. Additionally, researchers currently using traditional techniques can be confident that switching to camera-traps will likely yield improved results. Still, camera-traps are not a panacea and careful consideration into the benefits and usefulness of these techniques in individual circumstances is required.