Engadin, Switzerland

Hans Lozza, Swiss National Park
Sonja Wipf, Swiss National Park

Since its foundation in 1914, research has played a central role at the Swiss National Park. For over a hundred years now it has been like a huge, open-air laboratory where the development of animals, plants and their habitats can be studied without human intervention. Over time, scientists at the park gained a deep understanding of the complex processes in nature. Here, Hans Lozza installed and maintained a camera trap for Triggered by Motion.

Before the foundation of the park, shepherds and farmers came up here to graze their cows and sheep during summer. At the time trees were logged, and ibex and red deer were hunted to local extinction. The forest is still dotted with remnants of these activities. In the last hundred years, herbivore ungulates strongly increased in numbers, and they are keeping open the former pastures – but slowly, trees are encroaching on the grasslands.

Ibex (Capra ibex), Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the species mostly captured by Triggered by Motion’s camera. They are studied in various research and monitoring programmes and the park runs a camera trap network to estimate the densities of their populations. There also is a network of audio loggers to study songbirds.

The main research interest at the Swiss National Park is how human absence impacts natural systems, landscapes, food webs and species populations. Another current research topic is how the return of large carnivores might affect the ecosystem: For example, Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), who for a long time have been the largest carnivore in the park, are studied to see whether the establishment of wolves changes their behaviour, food preference, and numbers.

In addition to the camera traps, researchers at the park work with GPS collars and remote sensing with the help of satellites to study interactions between ungulate species and their habitats. They are also increasingly developing and using digital tools running on smartphones, hoping that they can soon be used to analyse the park’s camera trap data. To develop these tools, they are in touch with different research groups, and they are participating in the collaborative and volunteer-based camera trap project →Snapshot Europe

That’s why Sonja Wipf and Hans Lozza are excited about the international exchange around Triggered by Motion. «It opens our eyes to other countries», they say, «and enables us to learn and benefit from the experiences of others. The global biodiversity can be experienced very well with such projects.»

The biodiversity at the Swiss National Park has evolved positively over the past 100 years. The vegetation on former alpine pastures now has a much higher species diversity and insects are thriving. For example, the number of butterflies that live in the park has remained stable since 1914, whereas in unprotected areas it has declined sharply. The populations of red deer, chamois and ibex have developed very well, too. Within the last three decades the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), which went extinct in the Alps during the 19th century, was successfully reintroduced in the Swiss National Park, and in recent years, large carnivores made their way back.