What’s New In GIS And Biological Research: 11 May 2015

11 May

After having taken a couple of weeks off from producing this regular digest, there are plenty of new things to highlight which will be useful to those interested in using GIS in biological research.  So, without further ado, here’s my pick of them.

Firstly, Ur Geologist has a great post with some essential information for those wishing to use remote sensing in their GIS. Their post, which can be found here, provides two tables, one which gives the resolution of various remote sensing options, and a second which provides information about which sensors are well suited to which applications, such as working in the marine environment, looking at agricultural characteristics, or assessing the environment.

The second post I want to highlight is one which deals with the tricky issue of data quality assessment and control. This is something that all biologists should have a good handle on, but all too often it is ignored in the rush to analyse spatial relationships in their data. However, if the underlying data are not of sufficient quality, then the old adage of GIGO (Garbage In – Garbage Out) applies. Thus, I’d recommend reading this post on using ArcGIS Data Reviewer as it has some useful hints and tips to help make sure that your data are of as high a quality as possible.

As usual, MaybeItsAMap has been continuing to regularly publish their Quick Tips series, and I’m going to specifically point you towards two of them in this post. The first is about paramatizing components when using ArcGIS Modelbuilder to create your own custom GIS tools, while the second is about how to disable the background processing in ArcGIS. Both of these are great little tips, and in particular, disabling background processing is something that all ArcGIS users should do as it always leads to confusion if there are processes running in the background which you don’t realise are happening. There’s also a nice tip about how to fix shapefiles which have become corrupted, something that makes all of us break into a cold sweat when it happens, using Andrew Williamson’s ShapeChecker tool.

On the QGIS front, there have also been a number of useful posts published over the last couple of weeks. MapsNigeriaInitiative has a nice post on using DNR GPS to convert shapefiles from GIS into a GPS-compatible format and load them onto a GPS receiver. This is really useful thing to be able to do because you can use your GIS project to identify sampling locations and then use your GPS to help you navigate to them so they can be sampled. They also have a good post on how to query information in the attribute table of a shapefile in QGIS.  Meanwhile Cartoblography has a useful post on using custom Mapbox base layers in QGIS. Base layers provide you with background information from sources such as OpenOS, OpenMap, Bing Maps and Google Earth, and learning how to create you own customised versions based on some of these data sets, is always a good trick to know.

Moving away from dedicated GIS software packages, OpenGeolStudy have a post highlighting that Google Earth pro is now free to download. As someone to regularly uses, and recommends, Google Earth to other biologists for use in their research, it feels only right to highlight this development in the availability of this software package and its associated data sets.

On a related subject, users of Google Earth, and other online mapping products, might find this post titled ‘Why Do Internet Maps User Mercator?‘ both interesting and illuminating. Projection issues are one of the biggest and most frequent problems that biological GIS users encounter, and from this perspective alone it is useful to understand why the internet maps which we so regularly rely on use a projection which is not really compatible with most biological research projects.

Finally, and I’ll be considering this more in my next Paper of the Week post in a few days, I just want to flag up recent post on the Solitary Ecologist blog. This post is titled ‘How do correlations between climate and biodiversity arise?‘ and it is a really nice example of how GIS-based analyses can be used to answer biologically interesting research questions, but as I said before, more of that in a later post.

So these are the GIS-related things that have caught my eye this week, but, as always, I’m sure there’s a lot of other good stuff out there as well.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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