Quantifying imperfect camera-trap detection probabilities

implications for density modelling

T. McIntyre, T. L. Majelantle, D. J. Slip, R. G. Harcourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Data obtained from camera traps are increasingly used to inform various population-level models. Although acknowledged, imperfect detection probabilities within camera-trap detection zones are rarely taken into account when modelling animal densities. 

Aims: We aimed to identify parameters influencing camera-trap detection probabilities, and quantify their relative impacts, as well as explore the downstream implications of imperfect detection probabilities on population-density modelling. 

Methods: We modelled the relationships between the detection probabilities of a standard camera-trap model (n = 35) on a remotely operated animal-shaped soft toy and a series of parameters likely to influence it. These included the distance of animals from camera traps, animal speed, camera-trap deployment height, ambient temperature (as a proxy for background surface temperatures) and animal surface temperature. We then used this detection-probability model to quantify the likely influence of imperfect detection rates on subsequent population-level models, being, in this case, estimates from random encounter density models on a known density simulation. 

Key results: Detection probabilities mostly varied predictably in relation to measured parameters, and decreased with an increasing distance from the camera traps and speeds of movement, as well as heights of camera-trap deployments. Increased differences between ambient temperature and animal surface temperature were associated with increased detection probabilities. Importantly, our results showed substantial inter-camera (of the same model) variability in detection probabilities. Resulting model outputs suggested consistent and systematic underestimation of true population densities when not taking imperfect detection probabilities into account. 

Conclusions: Imperfect, and individually variable, detection probabilities inside the detection zones of camera traps can compromise resulting population-density estimates. 

Implications: We propose a simple calibration approach for individual camera traps before field deployment and encourage researchers to actively estimate individual camera-trap detection performance for inclusion in subsequent modelling approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-185
Number of pages9
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • detectability
  • mark-recapture
  • performance
  • random encounter model

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