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Estimating species richness in an ephemeral system

Buie, Morgan
Kleeberg, Bailey A.
Fairbanks, W. Sue
Chitwood, M. Colter
Lonsinger, Robert C.
Climate change-induced alterations in ecosystems can have profound effects on species diversity and ecological dynamics. Cimarron County, Oklahoma has experienced severe droughts since 2011, prompting an investigation into the limited knowledge surrounding terrestrial mammals present within the region. Camera traps are a minimally invasive way to sample terrestrial mammals across a large area. We attached trail cameras to trees or t-posts ~45cm off the ground at 160 opportunistic sites across the county. Cameras were deployed for ~28 days from May-August 2022 and 2024. We conducted a literature review to compile a community species list of 27 animals that had a predicted overlapping range with Cimarron County. Only species with a body mass ≥0.6kg were considered, to ensure accurate detection and identification on camera trap images. We analyzed ~300,000 images from a larger study of black bears in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, and categorized the county into four habitat types: mesa country, cropland, rangeland, and river bottom. Given certain aspects of the land and species behavior, it’s plausible that not every predicted species would appear on camera while occurring in the county. To account for imperfect detection, we collected data on diet preference, activity patterns, and sociality for each of the 27 species from our literature review to use as covariates. We also created a binary covariate of whether the species would be common (1) or rare (0) in the specified habitat type, and ran a single-species occupancy model with each of the covariates placed on detection. We ran the model four separate times to assess species richness in each of the four habitat types. 21 of the 27 species from our species list were detected. Estimated richness (Ѱ) in each habitat type was Ѱ=0.63 for mesa country, Ѱ=0.71 for cropland, Ѱ=0.55 for rangeland, and Ѱ=0.48 for river bottom. Our results can be used to further understand species richness, guiding managers to implement strategies that help mitigate effects of climate change, prioritize conservation efforts, and enhance community species richness and diversity.