LONDON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- U.K. scientists have developed a method to monitor rare and endangered species over large landscapes -- and it's as easy as clicking a camera shutter, they say.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London collect images from remote "camera traps" that automatically photograph anything that walks, crawls or flies by for a "Wildlife Picture Index" containing thousands of images of dozens of species, a Society release said Tuesday.
These virtual photo albums are then run through a statistical analysis to produce data for diversity and distribution of a broad range of wildlife.
"The Wildlife Picture Index is an effective tool in monitoring trends in wildlife diversity that previously could only be roughly estimated," Tim O'Brien of the WCS said. "This new methodology will help conservationists determine where to focus their efforts to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss over broad landscapes."
WPI was used to track changes in wildlife diversity over a 10-year period in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southwest Sumatra, Indonesia.
The 1,377-square-mile park contains the last remaining tracts of habitat for large mammals including Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses and Asian elephants.
After running an analysis of some 5,450 images of 25 mammals and one terrestrial bird species photographed throughout the park, the Wildlife Picture Index showed a net decline of 36 percent of the park's biodiversity.
"The Wildlife Picture Index will allow conservationists to accurately measure biodiversity in areas that previously have been either too expensive, or logistically prohibitive," John Robinson, WCS executive vice president for conservation and science, said.