Biological Research | WWF

Biological research

© WWF-Cambodia

Biological research helps in understanding the health, behavior, movement and range of species populations. Additionally, this information gives insight into the conservation impacts of WWF’s investment in the Eastern Plains Landscape and Mekong River region, allowing WWF to adjust and establish strategies and actions that best advance conservation goals. WWF-Cambodia has produced a number of peer-reviewed scientific publications which use novel and robust scientific methodologies to promote the conservation value of the landscape.

Key research activities include surveying species through extensive camera-trapping, the use of distance-based line transects for estimating tiger prey densities, scat-detection dogs surveys to search for large carnivores, DNA analysis of elephant dung for monitoring populations and animal movements, GPS collaring of a suite of charismatic species including dhole, Eld’s deer and beautiful Banteng, extensive inventory and collection of vegetation and flora, and photographic identification of Mekong dolphin individuals for population surveys.

Camera trapping involves fastening a protected and camouflaged camera to a tree fixed with an infrared light that detects movement. Through strategically setting up camera traps, WWF is able to capture photos of many species in their natural habitat. WWF-Cambodia uses camera traps in order to try and document the presence of predator species such as tiger, clouded leopard, and golden cat. At the same time, WWF monitors the presence of prey species such as banteng, muntjac, wild pig, and more, as a crucial part of understanding the health of the ecosystem and the potential for tiger population growth and reintroduction.

Camera-trapping conducted between 2008 and 2012 took pictures of Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Asian Golden Cat, Marbled Cat, Leopard Cat and Jungle Cat showing high global conservation value of the EPL.

A WWF survey team along with affiliated government staff performs photo identification surveys annually in order to estimate the population size, dynamics, and behavior of the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. The method of identifying and surveying Mekong dolphins is through photographing them, with particular focus on the dorsal fin, during a series of field excursions up and down the 200 km stretch of the species’ known habitat, from Kratie to the Lao border and back. Photo-identification is then conducted back in the office along with mark-recapture analysis which uses a mathematical model to estimate dolphin numbers.

In essence line transect surveys involve marking lines or paths through a certain area,which are then regularly monitored and surveyed by field staff for species. There observations are then recorded in detail, and through analysis can determine approximate numbers of species.

Research was conducted in this manner, by WWF and the Cambodian government in order to estimate ungulate (hoofed species) densities in the Eastern Plains Landscape. Result from this study found the population of banteng in the Eastern Plains Landscape to be between 2,700-5,700 individuals. This is the world’s largest population of banteng given the estimated global population is approximately 5,900-11,000.

Besides banteng, the research also confirmed increased numbers of other large mammals including wild pig and muntjac in the area, all of which are important prey species for tiger.  

Auditory sampling is a method used to monitor species that are more easily heard than seen, such as gibbons and various bird species. In 2009 WWF conducted a study to estimate gibbon’s distribution and population size through auditory sampling in PPWS. Gibbon's reside in the canopy of the forest and are difficult to view, however there loud, patterned calls make auditory sampling a viable option for auditory research. 

By placing GPS collars on species it is possible to trace the approximate location of species, thereby providing incredible information on the movements of individuals and groups, range size and pack behavior. In order to do this, researchers harmlessly capture the species and place GPS collars on them. At the end of the study the collars are either taken off or automatically fall off, depending on the technology.  

Reports and studies