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GIS For Biologists: Tips #20 – #23 How To Set Up And Use A Smart Phone As A GPS To Collect Spatial Data For Biological Research

15 Dec

The Global Positioning System, or GPS for short, is a system of satellites which transmit radio signals that can be used to work out where you are any where in the world. While it has been around for military use for a number of decades, it was only with the introduction of small, cheap, commercially available GPS receivers in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the GPS system became widely used for collecting spatial data for biological research.

This has been a great boost for those interested in all aspects of spatial ecology, but the purchase of a dedicated GPS receiver is still a barrier to the use of GPS for collection of highly accurate spatial data for many undergrad students, doctoral candidates and those interested in contributing to citizen science projects.

In the last few years, though, sensors capable of receiving the signals from the Global Positioning System have become ubiquitous in a wide variety of consumer goods, and particularly in smart phones. This means that, with the right app, the smart phone that most of us already carry in our pockets can be turned into a fully functioning GPS receiver.

However, just because they are easy to install and get running, this doesn’t mean that correctly setting up your chosen app to collect high quality spatial information for use in biological research is necessarily straight forward, and indeed, special care needs to be taken to ensure that you have selected all the appropriate settings both for the app, and for your phone’s internal operating system, before you start use it to collect any biological data.

If you don’t do these checks, then you may well find that any data you collect aren’t of sufficient quality to be used in your research, and that can range from being mildly annoying to totally devastating depending exactly how important your data are to your research.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to ensure that your GPS app and your smart phone are both set up correctly, and the videos in this article will take you through all the steps you need to follow to ensure you get this right.

While an Android phone and the GPS Essentials app (which can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store by clicking here) are used in these demonstrations, you will need to do similar steps with all similar apps, and smart phones with other operating systems. If, however, you’re using an Android smart phone, then GPS Essenstials is the GPS app we here at GIS In Ecology would recommend.

So without further ado, on to the videos. These will take you all the way from downloading and installing your chosen app, through how to set it up, and then how to use it to start collecting high quality spatial data.

1. GIS For Biologists: Tip #20 – How To Install An App To Turn A Smart Phone Into A GPS Receiver:

2. GIS For Biologists: Tip #21 – How To Record A Waypoint On A Smart Phone Using The GPS Essentials App:

3. GIS For Biologists: Tip #22 – How To Record A Track On A Smart Phone Using The GPS Essentials App:

4. GIS For Biologists: Tip #23 – How To Set Your Smart Phone To Record High Resolution Spatial Data:

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tips #17 – #19 Creating Custom Polygon Fills, Symbols And Styles For QGIS

11 Dec

QGIS is the leading open source, and so free-to-download, GIS software package that is available for biologists to use. However, one of the reasons that many biologists have not yet taken it up is because of the basic options for changing the way that information in data layers are displayed that come with QGIS.

At first, this does seem problematic, but you shouldn’t let it put you off using this rather brilliant tool for biological research. In fact, when you look into it, it’s actually very easy to make your own custom polygon fills, symbols and styles, and within a few short minutes you can create almost any polygon fill, symbol and style that you could ever need, or even imagine.

In addition, simply by saving a custom style file with the same name as your data layer and in the same folder on your computer, QGIS will automatically use these settings each and every time you use that data layer! This is a real bonus, and more than pays back the time taken to create the custom style in the first place.

So, how do you create your own custom polygon fills, symbols and styles for use in QGIS? Well the three videos below will show you just how easy this is.

1. GIS For Biologists: Tip #17 – How To Create Custom Polygon Fills Styles For Use In QGIS:

2. GIS For Biologists: Tip #18 – How To Make Your Own Custom Symbols For Use In GIS Projects:

3. GIS For Biologists: Tip #19 – How To Create And Use Custom Style Files In QGIS:

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tip #14 – How To Install Plugins To Extend The Functionality Of QGIS

19 Jun

QGIS (also known as Quantum GIS) is the leading open-source, and so freely available, GIS software package currently available. As it is open-source, this measn that it is easy for people to develop additional bits of software to extend its functionality. These are known as plugins. Plugins can be located and installed through the Plugins Manager, which in turn can be accessed through the Plugins menu on the main menu bar. There are a wide variety of plugins available, and if there is something which you wish to do in QGIS and you cannot find an existing tool to do it, the chances are that there will be a plugin that will allow you to complete your task. This includes things like doing spatial queries, nearest neighbour joins, placing the vertices of features at locations defined by a specific set of cooridnates and doing viewshed analyses.

Working with plugins in QGIS is relatively straight-forward, and this video shows you how to download and install any of the many different plugins which are available for using with QGIS.

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tip #13 – How To Set Up A GPS Reciever To Record GIS-Compatible Biological Data

12 Jun

The availability of cheap, handheld GPS receivers has brought the ability to collect high quality spatial data within the reach of almost every biologist. However, if wish to record biological data that can be used in a GIS project, you need to ensure that your GPS receiver is set up correctly before you start collecting your data. Using a Garmin eTrex for illustration, this video shows how to set up a GPS receiver to collect GIS compatible biological data. This follows on from Tip #10 in this series, which shows how to transfer data between a GPS receiver and a GIS project.

 

 

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tip #12 – How To Make A New Data Layer Using The Google Earth Interface

5 Jun

As mentioned in Tip #11, Google Earth is a very useful resource for biological GIS users. In particular, it provides high-resolution data which allow you to identify and examine many features which might influence the distribution of plants and animals. However, in order to be able to using this information in a GIS project, you first need to be able to make a GIS compatible copy of the features you are interested in

This video shows you how to create a high-resolution data layer of a specific feature of interest which would be suitable for use in a GIS project using Google Earth. This follows on from Tip #11, which showed how to transfer data layers between Google Earth and GIS projects.

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tip #11 – How To Transfer Data Layers Between Google Earth And A GIS Project

29 May

Google Earth is an incredibly powerful mapping tool, and one that contains a huge amount of spatial information. However, it can be sometimes be difficult to work out how to extract this information so that you can use it in your GIS projects. Luckily, the Google Earth interface provides you with a number of tools which can be used to extract information from the images it contains. This includes tools for creating point, line and polygon data layers, and these can be used to capture almost any type of feature which is visible within any Google Earth image.

Once data layers have been created in Google Earth, you then need to know how to transfer them into your GIS projects, and this is the subject of the video below. It shows how to take a data layer created in Google Earth and add it to a GIS project using QGIS, the leading open source, and so freely available, GIS software package.

In addition, this video shows how to take a data layer created in a GIS project and turn it into a .KML (Keyhole Markup Language) layer which can be plotted in Google Earth. This can help both with survey planning, and with sharing your data with non-GIS specialists. This is because Google Earth provides a very user-friendly mapping interface, and it’s one that many people are already familiar with.

While not covered in this video, if you are using a GIS software package that does not contain native tools for transforming data layers to and from the .KML format used by Google Earth, then you can consider using a stand-alone third-party software package, such as DNR GPS, which, like QGIS, is free to use.

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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GIS For Biologists: Tip #10 – How To Transfer Data Between A GPS And A GIS Project

22 May

The availability of cheap handheld GPS receivers, and indeed the inclusion of GPS receivers in almost all new smart phones and tablets, means that almost everyone can now collect high quality spatial data with a level of accuracy that was unimaginable even just a few years ago. This has opened up many new opportunities for biologists and greatly enhances their abilities to conduct spatially based research.

However, collecting accurate spatial data in the first place is only one step in successfully using such data in a GIS project. You also need to know how to be able to transfer the data you collect from your GPS receiver to your GIS project. In addition, it is also useful to know how to be able to transfer data from GIS project to your GPS receiver. This is because it allows you to design your surveys or identify your sampling locations in your GIS project, and then load this information on to your GPS receiver to help you conduct your surveys when you are in the field.

This video shows you three different ways that you can quickly and easily transfer .GPX files (which is the format used by most GPS receivers to record waypoints, tracks and routes) from your GPS to a GIS project and back again. These are: Using the ADD LAYER tool in the freely available open source GIS software QGIS, using the GPS TOOLS Plugin for QGIS, and using DNR GPS. Like QGIS, DNR GPS is free to use and, for those working with GIS software other than QGIS, it is one of the best options for converting GPS data stored in .GPX formatted files to GIS compatible shapefiles and vice versa. If you’re interested in trying it out, DNR GPS can be downloaded from here.

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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