Justification: Monitoring vertebrate communities will provide many benefits to the CSS bio-monitoring program. Vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, etc.) more than any other taxonomic group engage the public’s attention and support. In addition, many CSS vertebrate species are listed as threatened or endangered (O’Leary 1990, Keeley & Swift, 1995). However, studying vertebrates often involves extensive oversight (permits) and special training to capture and handle individuals safely. Because of this, vertebrates, particularly mammals, are often only studied by those with specialized training and experience and only at sites where the few experts can allocate their time.

To limit the need for extensive training and permits, we chose to design passive bio-monitoring protocols for vertebrates in CSS fragments using motion detector cameras. Bio-monitoring protocols for vertebrates will collect data on vertebrate phenology and species richness at each CSS fragment. Over multiple years, these efforts will compile a relatively complete vertebrate species inventory of each CSS fragment.

Monitoring Protocols: Protocols require the use of a minimum of five motion detector cameras, although more are recommended. Cameras will be tied to stakes or trees approximately 30 cm above the ground in a conventional way so the lens face is perpendicular to the ground. Initially, we recommended that additional cameras be set according to a new protocol developed by Dustin Welbourne (see: http://theconversation.com/new-gadgets-are-opening-windows-on-reptiles-11322), e.g., face down (lens parallel with the ground). However, preliminary data has found that outward facing cameras collected more species including large carnivores present at each site not captured by downward facing cameras while also capturing most smaller mammal species captured by downward facing cameras (Meyer and Karnovsky, in preparation). Also, we found that outward facing cameras were better at capturing bird, reptile and amphibian diversity. Cameras will be placed in the field for at least one week of every month from November through June. We have found that cameras, the date/time stamp function in particular, often miss function during the hot summer months.
Cameras will be placed at sites within each CSS fragment that span the variety of habitats. Each camera site will be categorized into habitat type (e.g., intact CSS, degraded CSS, non-native grassland, burned CSS, Chaparral). Classification of a particular habitat type typically uses the minimum requirement that 25% or more of the plants detected along transect/s are typically associated with a particular habitat type (Sawyer and Keeler-Wolf 1995). If more than 25% of plants are associated with two habitat types, this should be considered an ecotone. However, because much of Southern California has experienced some level of disturbance or invasion by exotic grasses (Keeley 2005, Wolkovich et al. 2010), plots are only considered to be non-native grassland if no other vegetation type constitutes 25% or more of the linear vegetation of a transect, typically using point-intercept method (see Matsuda et al. 2011). Using this system we can also classify CSS sites by level of non-native grass incursion using broad categories (non-native grassland, > 75% non-native grass; heavily degraded CSS, 75-50% non-native grass; degraded CSS, 50-25% non-native grass; intact CSS, < 25% non-native grass).

PRISSM vertebrate data management plan

Because data are currently being used in the production of multiple manuscripts, the data have been embargoed. For access please contact Professor Nina Karnovsky.


  • Keeley, J.E. 2005. Fire as a threat to biodiversity in fire-type shrublands. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-195.2005.
  • Matsuda, T., G. Turschak, C. Brehme, C. Rochester, M. Mitrovich, & R. Fisher. 2011. Effects of large-scale wildfires on ground foraging ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Southern California. Environmental Entomology 40: 204-216.
  • Sawyer, J. O., & T. Keeler-Wolf. 1995. A manual of California vegetation. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, USA.
  • Wolkovich, E.M. 2010. Grass invasion causes rapid increases in ecosystem carbon and nitrogen storage in a semiarid shrubland. Global Change Biology 16: 1351-1365.