Study Design

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The Border Wildlife Study is designed to rigorously document which species are migrating through and residing permanently in this area where there is no wall. The camera array is deployed across a grid with 58 observation points spaced 2 km apart in the U.S. and Mexico. The passive infrared cameras trigger when they sense motion and heat to capture images of wildlife, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. 

Cameras are deployed across a systematic 1 km x 1 km grid, where each camera is within 3 km of the U.S.-Mexico border. The red diagonal line near the upper left corner shows where the two countries meet. The yellow pinpoint markers are camera locations in Mexico (left) and the U.S. (right). Cameras are grouped into eight blocks, spanning the Patagonia Mountains, San Rafael Valley (pictured here), and Huachuca Mountains.  

 

This design creates a network of camera points optimized to detect both wide-ranging large mammals like jaguars and small animals like coatis and birds. Our design is based on the “TEAM” protocol — the global wildlife-monitoring standard also used by the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada. 

Because the TEAM protocol selects regularly spaced camera locations across different landscape features and habitats, it removes bias in camera placement and increases the likelihood of documenting the true breadth of the wildlife community. It allows for direct scientific comparison between camera points because they’re selected the same way.   

Cameras are checked every 6-8 weeks to maintain battery power and collect photos. These photos are then screened for wildlife detections by Sky Island Alliance staff, interns, and volunteers — with positive detections carefully identified. We process about 2 million photographs a year, and only 1% are animals. The vast majority of detections are wind-blown vegetation, cattle, and occasional humans.  

Reference 

TEAM Network. 2011. Terrestrial Vertebrate Protocol Implementation Manual, v. 3.1. Tropical Ecology, Assessment and Monitoring Network, Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA.