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How open data and “animal selfies” can help conservation efforts, a PLOS Science Wednesday AMA recap

The July 13 PLOS Science Wednesday Ask Me Anything session (AMA) featured Jorge Ahumada from Conservation International and Lydia Beaudrot from University of Michigan, authors of a PLOS Biology paper describing how scientists used camera traps to monitor wildlife populations in 15 protected tropical forests from around the world.

Every week, we are pleased to see redditscience users extract new meaning from PLOS research by asking questions that steer the conversation toward a new, and at times unexpected, course of scientific inquiry. Today’s AMA took a surprising turn when multiple redditscience users asked the authors about the implications of their decision to share their data with the public.

The benefits of data sharing to accelerate research efforts in public health emergencies, such as the Zika outbreak, or to test the reproducibility of study results, is already well-documented, but more recently a variety of researchers have demonstrated the importance of open data for conservation efforts. In the case of authors Ahumada and Beaudrot, the data in question includes (often, very cute) images of various animals captured by trap cameras. These “animal selfies” helped the researchers monitor population fluctuations among local wildlife, and provided quantifiable evidence that protected forest regions have not had substantial declines in the populations of their wildlife.

Social media highlights from PLOS Science Wednesday

A full transcript from the July 13 AMA is available on r/redditscience, but some of the best social media moments from the chat are summarized below.

In a top up-voted question, redditscience user OrlandoDeveloper ask the authors about what type of environmental data should be available publicly:

“As a programmer, I’ve noticed many opportunities to help conservation biologists with educational resources (e.g. merging GPS with imagery on Google Maps). Many times, I see quality information being hidden from public view and it leads me to believe there is too much info/work for that to happen. Do you agree? What type of info should be shown to the public?

Redditscience user Tessellate8 asks: “You mention that your results are publicly available ( for anyone to monitor population trends in protected areas. Could you describe any potential strategies for encouraging as many people as possible to collect and openly share biodiversity data?

Jorge’s quote “… since animals cannot tweet or post their images to Facebook or Instagram, lets do it for them” was translated into a tweet that’s a fan-favorite, receiving 24 RTs and counting at the time of this post’s publication.

Sheryl Decker, Communications Editor for PLOS, asked the following on the official PLOS reddit account: “You have made your data available to others for analysis. What do you hope to achieve by this and what other types of analyses would you like to see done with the data?”

Jorge shows that, already, the data repository shared by the PLOS authors has been used in clever ways by other scientists to investigate hypotheses beyond the immediate scope of wildlife conservation.

Included here is a curated collection of images from the data collected from camera traps installed by the research team led Ahumada and Beaudrot for the PLOS Biology study.

Featured Image: Ogilby’s Duiker (Cephalophus ogilbyi) in Cameroon. This species often shows a lot of interest in the cameras. Image courtesy of TEAM vault at Conservation International.


Jorge Ahumada and Lydia Beaudrot. Standardized Assessment of Biodiversity Trends in Tropical Forest Protected Areas: The End Is Not in Sight. 7/13 AMA archive. Read the PLOS Biology article.

Beaudrot, L., Ahumada, J., O’Brien, T., Alvarez-Loayza, P., Boekee, K., Campos-Arceiz, A., Eichberg, D., Espinosa, S., Fegraus, E., Fletcher, C., Gajapersad, K., Hallam, C., Hurtado, J., Jansen, P., Kumar, A., Larney, E., Lima, M., Mahony, C., Martin, E., McWilliam, A., Mugerwa, B., Ndoundou-Hockemba, M., Razafimahaimodison, J., Romero-Saltos, H., Rovero, F., Salvador, J., Santos, F., Sheil, D., Spironello, W., Willig, M., Winarni, N., Zvoleff, A., & Andelman, S. (2016). Standardized Assessment of Biodiversity Trends in Tropical Forest Protected Areas: The End Is Not in Sight PLOS Biology, 14 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002357

“Conservation: Good News from Animal Selfies”. By Roli Roberts in Biologue, PLOS Blogs published 1/20/2016.


  1. […] PLOS is a non-profit publisher and self-described “advocacy organization” that provides open access content through a library of journals, scientific literature, information on clinical trials, and other materials and data. Publications through PLOS are made available under the Creative Commons attribution license, which allows for the free reproduction and distribution of information. In addition to its scientific journals, there’s the PLOS blogs platform, which hosts a number of blogs and podcasts on a variety of topics; some of the blogs are written by PLOS staff members, while others are authored by science journalists and researchers. The point of the platform is to share scientific ideas with a broad audience through more informal (yet highly accurate and well-researched) communication. You can find posts about the connection between smoking and body weight, or interesting discussions about open data projects involving “animal selfies.” […]

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