Can cameras improve the monitoring of freshwater systems?

Hello everyone! My name is Loren Gittings and I am an MSc student at Swansea University currently undertaking my dissertation within the FIRE lab team. I am very excited to have the opportunity to share details of my MSc project with you all. My project explores how underwater cameras can be used to quantify the biodiversity and behaviour of freshwater invertebrates inhabiting Brynmill Stream, which runs through Singleton Park next to Swansea University. Human threats to freshwater systems have escalated over the past few decades, creating the need for methodological advancements to improve the monitoring, assessment and management of these ecosystems (Reid et al., 2018). Remote camera technology has been used to monitor terrestrial biodiversity across the world, but recent technological advancements have now enabled the use of cameras within marine environments. Cameras are now widely used in the recording and monitoring of megafauna in marine environments (Bicknell et al., 2016), but the use of camera technology in characterising the biodiversity of freshwater systems is still a relatively new technique – especially for invertebrates.

The primary aim of the project is to compare the effectiveness of underwater cameras in identifying freshwater communities compared to the more conventional sampling methods such as ‘kick sampling’ – where surveyors disturb river sediments with their feet and collect drifting invertebrates into a net. The data collected from analysing the camera footage will be compared to the 3 minute kick samples and assessment method used by the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative, a citizen science programme used to assess the health of a freshwater system using the presence of eight invertebrate groups (mostly riverfly species) found within the samples (more information can be found here: http://www.riverflies.org/rp-riverfly-monitoring-initiative).

Underwater cameras were positioned above two packs of bait (containing processed meat and cheese) attached to white acrylic boards in a stream pool. A total of 12-13 hours of footage was collected during the day (over a combination of the two cameras) up to four days a week to provide an ample amount of video footage ready to be analysed. Initially the plan was to position the cameras in a stream riffle (shallow, fast flowing sections) as it supports a richer biodiversity, but after missing bait bags and analysing the camera footage we realised it also attracted a few birds – as you can see here!

A video of magpie stealing our bait intended for invertebrates inhabiting Brnymill Stream.

To prevent any further baits from being stolen we repositioned the set-up of the cameras to the pool, which detected a far greater amount of invertebrate activity anyway – we believe this is due to the smooth surface of the acrylic board offering little protection to the fast flows in the riffle.

Loren G Fieldwork Setup 1 Loren G Fieldwork Setup 2

Camera set-up within the stream pool. Baits are attached to a white Perspex board to allow for clearer identification of invertebrate species whilst analysing camera footage.

Not only does this project provide a better understanding of the invertebrate communities present in our local stream, it also has the potential to provide data on body size and behavioural elements, which are often neglected (or are unattainable) when undertaking conventional sampling methods. Due to improved accessibility afforded through the use of cameras, citizen science programmes may also benefit through increased community participation.

I would like to thank my project supervisors (Stephanie and James) and fellow members of the FIRE lab team for their continuing guidance and support throughout my project!

Thank you for reading! I hope to keep you all updated on the outcomes of the project and its potential implications within the next few months. If you would like to hear more about my project, feel free to contact myself (832228@swansea.ac.uk) or one of the FIRE lab team.

References

Bicknell, A.W.J., Godley, B.J., Sheehan, E.V., Votier, S.C. & Witt, M.J. (2016) Camera technology for monitoring marine biodiversity and human impact. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14, 424-432.

Reid, A.J., Carlson, A.K., Creed, I.F., Eliason, E.J., Gell, P.A., Johnson, P.T.J., Kidd, K.A., MacCormack, T.J., Olden, J.D., Ormerod, S.J., Smol, J.P., Taylor, W.W., Tockner, K., Vermaire, J.C., Dudgeon, D. & Cooke, S.J. (2018) Emerging threats and persistent conservation challenges for freshwater biodiversity. Biological Reviews, 94, 849-873.

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