PiCAM: a Raspberry Pi-based open-source, low-power camera system for monitoring plant phenology in arctic environments

  1. Time-lapse cameras have been widely used as a tool to monitor the timing of seasonal vegetation growth. These simple, relatively inexpensive systems can provide high-frequency observations of leaf development and demography which are critical data sets needed to characterize plant phenology from species to landscapes. This is important for understanding how plants are responding to global changes, as well as for validating satellite-derived phenology products.
  2. However, in remote regions including the high-latitude Arctic, deploying time-lapse cameras could be challenging. The remoteness and lack of widespread power and telecommunications infrastructure limit options for the installation, maintenance and retrieval of data and equipment, and make it difficult for cameras to survive in extreme weather (e.g. long cold winters). To improve our understanding of Arctic phenology, new technologies are required to address these challenges.
  3. Here, we present a novel, low-power, compact, lightweight time-lapse camera system, called power-interval camera automation module (PiCAM). The PiCAM was designed with explicit consideration to simplify deployment (i.e. without a need for external power supplies) of camera systems and to address the challenges of camera survival in harsh Arctic environments. In this paper, we describe the design, setup and technical details of the PiCAM and provide a roadmap for how to build and operate these systems. As proof of concept, we deployed 26 PiCAMs at three low-Arctic tundra sites on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska in early August 2021 for characterizing Arctic plant phenology.
  4. Of the 26 PiCAMs, 70% remained active at the point of our revisit in late July 2022 despite the extreme winter temperatures they experienced (< −30°C, heavy snow cover). We extracted key plant phenology metrics from the PiCAMs and captured strong differences across key Arctic plant species. We showed that the PiCAM has the potential to be widely used for monitoring plant phenology across the broader Arctic region, addressing the need for ground-based understanding of Arctic phenological diversity to develop knowledge of plant response to climate change and to validate remote sensing products.
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Methods in Ecology and Evolution
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