PITTSBURG, Kan. — Pittsburg State University students are teaming up with the Smithsonian Institution to document the diversity of mammals nationwide.
The project, called Snapshot USA, is a partnership between the museum and one university from each of the 50 states with students capturing photographs and collecting research for a national wildlife database. The goal is to analyze nationwide trends in mammal communities, as well as the influence of human beings on nature.
PSU was selected to represent Kansas after a lead Smithsonian researcher discovered a project that Caleb Durbin, 21, a biology major, published last semester in his urban ecology class.
“My study, when I started out, I set up two camera traps, and it was from a rural to an urban gradient, and I put it out for 98 trap nights,” Durbin said. “What I was observing was the mammals and wildlife that go past the motion detectors. With that, I made a poster and I presented it at the research colloquium.”
Durbin’s project was discovered by a researcher on Digital Commons, an open-access collection of data maintained by the Office of Graduate and Continuing Studies and Library Services at PSU. Anyone from around the world can access different findings of scholarly work on Digital Commons.
“Mike Cove from the Smithsonian in D.C. is doing a nationwide camera trap survey, and he saw ours,” Durbin said. “He asked me and Dr. (Christine) Brodsky if we wanted to be part of a nationwide survey, and we didn’t say no.”
Brodsky, an assistant professor in PSU’s biology department, said the study is not time intensive and won’t disturb any of the species caught on camera.
“We’ll all run our cameras for the month of September and October,” she said. “Then we’ll look at all of the data, do some nationwide analyses and get journal publications out of it. It helps us better understand the associations of these species with different habitats. The really cool thing is that this is a really easy way to collect data.”
The study will look at mammals found in urban areas throughout the United States. Cameras take photos during the day and night whenever they detect motion. Brodsky said the project will inform them of the types of mammals and ways to enhance diversity.
Six students, including Durbin, will check cameras every two weeks to collect the photos and publish what they find in Pittsburg.
Sol Corvalan, a 23-year-old from Paraguay, is one of the students assisting with the project. The environmental engineering major is also working on the project with a classmate from Paraguay.
“It’s actually really exciting because this is our first time working with camera traps, so it really enriches our cultural exchange experience,” she said.
The group set out the last two of 10 cameras for the project last week.
PSU is also partnering with the city of Pittsburg, with city officials granting permission for placement of cameras along city property.
“This project will provide interesting information on the animals we live with here in Pittsburg and will aid the Smithsonian in their efforts to track national trends,” said Jay Byers, Pittsburg’s deputy city manager. “Having Pittsburg State represent Kansas demonstrates its quality and raises the profile of the city on a national level. The more that the talent in Pittsburg is recognized, the more attractive we are as a place to live and do business.”
Students will present results of their camera trapping at a research colloquium in April, and then the results will be uploaded to Digital Commons. Brodsky also hopes to submit for publication a paper with Durbin on their results in which they analyze the camera data in the context of mammals in a former mining area.
Once the sampling period is complete, the public will be able to access the mammal photos on eMammal, an online data management system and archive for camera trap research projects.