Snapshot Saturday: November 17th, 2018

Good luck and stay warm, hunters! Happy Snapshot Saturday!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

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Wisconsin Wildlife: Generalists & Specialists

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Raccoons aren’t picky about what they eat! Source: stevehdc, Wikimedia Commons.

My brother Ian was a picky eater. Breakfast was always a bowl of Crispex. For lunch, he ate a PB&J and refused to eat the crusts. I was the opposite. Even as a young child, I loved proverbially “gross” foods like mushrooms and started drinking coffee when I was twelve.

Turns out that some animals are like Ian and some are like me. For example, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. We call animals like the monarch specialists. Conversely, some animals will eat, well, just about anything. Raccoons, for example, are equally happy eating crayfish from the creek or scraps from your garbage can. We call such species generalists.

Diet isn’t the only thing to be picky about! Some species exhibit preferences for precise habitat types. For example, the Kirtland’s Warbler breeds only in young jack pine barrens, primarily in Michigan, but also occasionally in Wisconsin. On the other hand, some species are ubiquitous. The coyote is an exemplar habitat generalist—you might spot one in the wilds of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest or in a suburb of Milwaukee.

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A coyote in a forest captured by a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

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A coyote in farmland captured by a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

Taken together, diet and habitat comprise what we call the ecological niche of a species. You can think of a niche as the “cubbyhole” that a species occupies within the broader tapestry of its environment. The breadth of a niche is a continuum from extreme specialists (like Kirtland’s Warblers) to extreme generalists (like raccoons). Some species fall between those extremes; deer are a great example. Deer are strict herbivores, but they can be found in many different habits, from forests to farmlands. So, not every species can be neatly classified as a generalist or a specialist.

Scientists are interested in generalists and specialists because they exhibit different responses to change. Like a trained craftsman whose job is replaced by a machine, the specialist has nowhere to go when the environment changes. Generalists, on the other hand, can capitalize on the vacant niche space and colonize altered landscapes. Given the widespread changes humans are exerting on the earth, we are seeing global proliferation of generalists while many specialists are disappearing, a process known as biotic homogenization.

This may seem dire, but the more we learn about generalists and specialists, the more we’ll be able to do to maintain biodiversity and lose fewer specialists. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about the animals you see on a regular basis. Is that squirrel outside your window an ecological jack-of-all-trades? Are there any habitat specialists that live on your property? And maybe even think about your own niche—are you a generalist, a specialist, or somewhere in between?

Snapshot Saturday: November 10th, 2018

This Snapshot Saturday features a grinning pair of black bears from Jackson County!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

23 Million Photos: “How Do You Keep Up?”

Stop for a second and try to visualize 23 million of something. The number of species on the planet? That’s roughly 8.7 million. The number of residents in Wisconsin? Nah, that’s not even 8 million! How about photos collected by the Snapshot Wisconsin project since 2016? Ding ding ding! (well – 23,706,425 photos to be exact, not like we are counting or anything…)

Up until recently, Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers were uploading roughly one million photos total per month – but this number is bound to increase after nearly doubling our volunteer base! When we share this statistic during trainings and presentations, we always know to expect the question, “How do you keep up with all of those photos!?”
“Well, it’s a little complicated”, is how we generally start the answer. In this blog post we will dive into how the project has been maintaining this vast amount of data so far, and exciting prospects for the future of Snapshot Wisconsin.

Filtering Photos for Zooniverse:

Zooniverse is a crowdsourcing platform hosting sites for a large variety of projects, including Snapshot Wisconsin. Here anyone with internet access can go online and classify images collected by trail cameras in the project. Before photos are sent to Zooniverse, Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera hosts have the opportunity to view and classify their own photos.

While the volunteers are required to identify and remove human photos, classifying blanks and animals is extremely helpful! Why is this? We conducted an analysis to determine the accuracy of single classifications made by volunteers in their MySnapshot accounts, versus consensus classifications made by volunteers on Zooniverse. We were able to identify species that volunteers are really great at classifying (e.g. deer, squirrels, raccoons, turkeys, etc.)! When these photos are classified by volunteers in their MySnapshot accounts, we do not send them to Zooniverse. Instead we take the volunteer’s classification as the “final classification” for the image, which helps cut back on the number of photos for which we rely on Zooniverse classifications.

Crowd Sourced Classifications on Zooniverse:

The remainder of photos are uploaded to Zooniverse in “seasons”, with each season containing anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 images. Once a season wraps up, staff members can be caught scrambling around the office getting a new season ready to go. To prepare for each season we need to upload photos and their information, as well as manually review photos to ensure no humans or excessive number of blanks get uploaded. On average, it has taken roughly 3 months for a season to be fully classified and a new season to be uploaded, which generally includes a break that lasts a few weeks.

On Zooniverse, multiple volunteers will view and classify each photo to produce a consensus classification. Photos are viewed by upwards of 11 volunteers if a consensus isn’t reached early on; if a consensus is never reached the photos will go on to expert review by staff members. Since launching in 2016, Zooniverse volunteers have helped the project move through 9 full seasons of photos. Season 10 just launched last week! Across these seasons, the project has had over 6,000 registered volunteers participate and classify 2,253,244 images, or an average of 2,596 photos per day.

Moving Forward – Machine Learning to Classify Animals:

Recently a team of researchers created a computer model using machine learning that classifies images captured by trail cameras. Machine learning is the science of getting computers to learn and act like humans do, and improve their learning over time in autonomous fashion buy feeding them data and information in the form of observations and real-world interactions¹. In this case, the computer model was provided over 3 million images of animals, each that had already been classified by a human, to aid the computer in “learning” to determine which species is which in trail camera images.

The trained model was able to classify approximately 2,000 images per minute at 98% accuracy on images of species collected in the United States. The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently prepared a large set of classified images to further improve the model, and to potentially be incorporated into the project to help keep up with the booming number of images collected. This isn’t to say that volunteer classifications (MySnapshot or Zooniverse) would be replaced, but using automated classifications could help ramp up the speed at which the project produces viable data.

To view the scientific paper, Machine learning to classify animal species in camera trap images: application in ecology, visit this link: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/06/13/346809.full.pdf

Sources:

  1. Faggella, Daniel (2018, October 29). What is Machine Learning? Retried from https://www.techemergence.com

Snapshot Saturday: November 3rd, 2018

Did you know that a baby porcupine is called a porcupette? Happy Snapshot Saturday from this adorable Oneida County duo.

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at http://www.snapshotwisconsin.org/.

 

October #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap goes to series of photos of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) captured on camera in Manitowoc county last January. Red foxes use their thick tails for warmth, aiding in balance and communicating with other foxes. To learn more fun foxy facts, visit this link. Thanks for sharing this stunning photo @snowdigger!

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

November Volunteer of the Month

October’s Volunteer of the Month is
Roger from Sawyer County!

November’s Volunteer of the Month is Roger from Sawyer County. Roger was one of the first Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers, as he reaches 2.5 years with the project this month – wow! Roger enjoys hunting, fishing, and being outdoors every day.

Roger’s camera site is a fan favorite, and staff go-to for exciting photos. Roger recently stated, “One of the coolest things that ever happened to me was early in the program, I had a picture of eight otters going down a trail that I maintain on my property. This picture was used in a publication for the University of Wisconsin.” Images from Roger’s camera have also been used in a Snapshot Wisconsin lesson plan, Making Observations, where students are able to observations about animal behavior over time and space.

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A romp of North American river otters captured on Roger’s Snapshot Wisconsin camera

Thank you, Roger! Thank you to all our trail camera hosts and Zooniverse volunteers for helping us discover our wildlife together.

Snapshot Saturday: October 27th, 2018

Do you ever feel like you’re between a beak and a hard space? This Snapshot Saturday features a Great Blue Heron (and unlucky turtle) from a Dane County camera!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

September Travels

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The end of September is a beautiful time to travel around Wisconsin.  This fall we have had a lot of opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall colors as we travel around doing in person trainings across the state. Taylor and I traveled up to Crandon and Merrill for a few days for trainings and gave a talk about Snapshot to the Lincoln County Sports Club. We were fortunate to have Friday afternoon off so we took the opportunity to check out Council Grounds State Park just outside Merrill. We had a lovely walk along the lake shore and as usual found ourselves checking out animal sign along the way. We found bear sign but didn’t see any bears. We did see some late season harebell flowers, lots of fly mushrooms, a white throated sparrow and possibly a migrating magnolia warbler.

Whenever we travel we like to take the opportunity to try the locally owned restaurants. We were fortunate to have a really good Mexican restaurant, Los Mezcales right next door to our hotel in Merrill. We have been keeping a journal of our travels since we started the project back in 2016. It is fun to look back and remember our adventures over the past 2 plus years.

On Saturday, we left Merrill to head to Black River Falls where we met up with Joe to lead a Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin Field Trip out to a couple of our elk monitoring cameras.  The fall colors around Black River Falls were even prettier than they were farther to the north. About a dozen attendees met us at the Black River Falls WDNR office parking lot for a preview of our trip and a brief introduction to the elk reintroduction and monitoring programs. There are about 200 or so cameras around the Jackson County Forest specifically for monitoring the elk herd that was reintroduced to the area in 2015. These cameras are all maintained by volunteers with the Snapshot Wisconsin Elk Monitoring project.

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After our discussion about the elk we drove about 20 minutes outside of town to reach the camera locations. A short hike into the woods brought us to our first camera location. Taylor showed the attendees how to perform a camera check, which includes recording the date and time of the camera check, the number of photos recorded on the SD card in the camera and changing out the SD card and batteries.  We took another hike to a camera nearby and one of the field trip attendees took over doing the camera check. One of the other attendees found some wolf sign in the area, and the camera did have a wolf proximity sensor associated with it. We will have to wait and see if any wolf pictures show up at this camera site.

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We plan to host this field trip for NRFW again next year. Folks local to the Wisconsin area should check out the field trips offered by NRFW every year. Many are led by DNR employees or employees and volunteers of other conservation groups across the state.  They are a great way to learn more about conservation and get an inside look at what is going on in Wisconsin.  Curious to learn more about elk? Check out this page on the WDNR website: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/elk.html To signup to participate in the Snapshot Wisconsin elk monitoring project send an email to DNRSnapshotWisconsin@wisconsin.gov with the subject line “Elk Monitoring”.

Snapshot Saturday: October 20th, 2018

Although Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are used to collect data on Wisconsin mammals, they still capture photos of all the wildlife – including Monarch Butterflies. This Snapshot Saturday comes to you from Sheboygan County!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.