Zoo scientists strap motion-activated field cameras to trees in Chicago

Urban Wildlife Biodiversity Monitoring

Zoo scientists strap motion-activated field cameras to trees in Chicago


Monitoring stations from the city to the suburbs will help scientists chronicle the wildlife of the Chicago region.


Cities can be hostile places for wildlife, with threats coming from habitat destruction, roads and traffic, humans, pets, and large numbers of invasive species. However, with proper management, urban areas can house a number of important wildlife species, including carnivores, small mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

To assess the biodiversity of the greater Chicagoland area, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute has established monitoring stations within city parks, forest preserves, golf courses, and cemeteries across a four-county area, including downtown Chicago and its suburbs. Since 2010, motion-activated field cameras have been deployed four times per year at more than 100 sites to determine which species are present and to assess spatial and long-term patterns in wildlife communities.

Adding New Dimensions

To date, the motion-activated field cameras have mainly detected medium- to large-sized mammals, as well as some birds. In 2012, researchers began opportunistically sampling arthropods (insects, spiders, etc.) found within the metal security cases that house the cameras. Habitat type, urbanization, tree species, and season all may have an effect on which arthropod species occupy these security cases.

To further understanding of wildlife communities, Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) researchers have also set up a number of acoustic monitors at a subset of biodiversity monitoring project sites. Acoustic monitors allow researchers to identify bird and bat species at a site based on their calls. These sampling methods will help researchers at the Urban Wildlife Institute generate a greater understanding of how land-use and habitat fragmentation can affect wildlife populations.

The Urban Wildlife Biodiversity Monitoring Project has expanded beyond Chicago. In 2016, UWI began partnering with ecologists and educators around the world to form the Urban Wildlife Information Network (UWIN). Using methods developed at Lincoln Park Zoo, UWIN partners monitor urban wildlife in a coordinated effort to understand how species respond to urbanization more broadly.

Valuable Knowledge for Conservation

Knowing the location and behavior of Chicago’s urban wildlife will help support conservation efforts. This knowledge will pave the way for future ecological studies of specific urban species, helping stakeholders to better manage wildlife conflict.


Seth Magle, Ph.D.
Urban Wildlife Institute
Liza Lehrer, M.S.
Assistant Director
Urban Wildlife Institute
Mason Fidino, Ph.D.
Quantitative Ecologist
Urban Wildlife Institute
Cria Kay, M.S.
Urban Wildlife Institute
Kimberly Fake, M.S.
Wildlife Research Coordinator
Urban Wildlife Institute
Julia Kilgour, M.S.
Adjunct Scientist
Urban Wildlife Institute
Juniper Simonis, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology; Urban Wildlife Institute