Our Border Wildlife Study seeks to understand which species live and move across the border. The study focuses on mammals readily documented by passive infrared cameras. But birds, reptiles, invertebrates, cattle, and humans are also recorded across the 65-camera array. Three years into the study, we now have a detailed view of how the wildlife community is distributed across the 30-mile stretch of border spanning the Patagonia Mountains, San Rafael Valley, and Huachuca Mountains. As the cameras continue taking photographs 24/7, the number of species we document grows. We’re also seeing trends for when and where wildlife show up across the seasons. The results below cover our first three years and will be updated moving forward. 

Since March 2020, we’ve documented 132 wildlife species or unique taxa on our Border Wildlife Study cameras. To date, 54% of the species are birds (n=71), 25% of the species are mammals (n=33), 16% of the species are invertebrates (n=21), and 5% of the species are reptiles (n=7). This figure doesn’t include domestic animals or humans.

Our species tally includes all animals identified to the species level and animals identified to unique taxonomic groups such as genus or family. Small wildlife are often difficult to identify to species from photos alone, so we identify them to the extent possible. For example, we can identify woodrats (Neotoma spp.) to genus but not species level from photos. So, we classify all woodrat detections as Neotoma spp. and consider this one unique taxa in our tally, even though the number of woodrat species may be greater.

Figure 3. As expected, the number of wildlife species detected on our study cameras increased rapidly during the first few months and has since leveled out with time. However, we are still finding new species for the study after three years. For example, we just recently documented our first ringtail in the San Rafael Valley and our first American badger in the Huachucha Mountains. This highlights the importance of long-term camera-monitoring studies. Over time, they can more comprehensively reflect all the wildlife present on a landscape.

Figure 4. Each yellow point represents a camera location within our Border Wildlife Study, and the size reflects wildlife species diversity on that specific camera. As you can see, cameras with the greatest wildlife diversity within our study are in the San Rafael Valley and Patagonia Mountains.

Figure 5. The detection rates of medium and large mammals have changed through time across our study region. The rates have increased slightly in the San Rafael Valley, whereas they have decreased slightly in the Patagonia and Huachuca mountains. We will continue to monitor these trends and investigate potential causes for these patterns. Our metric here for detection rate is calculated as events per camera x days — where “events” is the number of times a camera flashed and positively recorded any mammal in view and “days” is the number of days a given camera was active.