Monday, December 04, 2006


GIS stands for Geographic Information System. This software allows one to take a mountain of data and view it graphically in any desired combination. In this way, patterns and relationships can be more easily detected.

The image shows a bird's-eye view of the boardwalk here at the Francis Beidler Forest. The nature center and the beginning of the boardwalk are at the upper left. Goodsen Lake is shown at the lower right. North is at the top of the image. The only data layers shown are the boardwalk and the species (flora and fauna) sighted over the last few years. However, there are also layers that show the buildings, the canoe trail, the low boardwalk trail, the property boundaries, access gates, etc. What makes GIS technology a powerful tool is the user's ability to view the data separately or in combination with other, sometimes seemingly unrelated, data.

The species data are shown as individual points in the image with each type (plant, mammal, bird, reptile, insect, fish, etc.) shown in a unique color. Though the separate dots are difficult to see in the image, the software allows the user to zoom in. It should be clear that the green dots are the most seen animals. Based on our organization's focus, one could guess that the green dots represent birds.

Using the data shown in the image as an example, there are over 3100 species points in the data table. In April, if a nature photographer only had an hour before she had to depart for the airport and she desperately wanted to take a picture of an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus), where on the boardwalk would she likely have success? Simply looking through the table for the data to answer that question would be difficult and extremely time-consuming. However, by posing that query using the GIS software (date, cottonmouth, close to the boardwalk), only the appropriate data points would light up. In seconds, you could tell the photographer to go to #4 or the stretch between #8 and #10.

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