Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Idaho
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Strickfaden, K.M., M.L. Behan, A.M. Marshall, L.K. Svancara, D.E. Ausband, and T. Link. 2023. Virtual snow stakes: a new method for snow depth measurement at remote camera stations. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 47: e1481.


Remote cameras are used to study demographics, ecological processes, and behavior of wildlife populations. Cameras have also been used to measure snow depth with physical snow stakes. However, concerns that physical instruments at camera sites may influence animal behavior limit installation of instruments to facilitate collecting such data. Given that snow depth data are inherently contained within images, potential insights that could be made using these data are lost. To facilitate camera‐based snow depth observations without additional equipment installation, we developed a method implemented in an R package called edger to superimpose virtual measurement devices onto images. The virtual snow stakes can be used to derive snow depth measurements. We validated the method for snow depth estimation using camera data from Latah County, Idaho, USA in winter 2020–2021. Mean bias error between the virtual snow stake and a physical snow stake was 5.8 cm; the mean absolute bias error was 8.8 cm. The mean Nash Sutcliffe Efficiency score comparing the fit of the 2 sets of measurements within each camera was 0.748, indicating good agreement. The edger package provides researchers with a means to take critical measurements for ecological studies without the use of physical objects that could alter animal behavior, and snow data at finer scales can complement other snow data sources that have coarser spatial and temporal resolution.