Tag Archives: Biology

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 #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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GIS For Biologists: Tip #9 – How To Add A Google Earth Or Bing Maps Image To A GIS Project

15 May

This video is the ninth in a series of helpful hints and handy tips for biologists who want to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their research. It demonstrates how to add an image from Google Earth or Bing maps to a GIS project using QGIS, the leading freely available open source GIS software. For those working in the commercial ArcGIS software package, a similar end can be achieved by adding the World Imagery basemap from ESRI to a GIS project.

If you are wondering why you would want to add such images to a GIS project, they open up some very interesting and useful possibilities. Firstly, and most basically, they provide a nice background to help put any data you are displaying in your GIS project in a wider context. For example, you can see areas of woodland, or lakes, or see their proximity to other features, such as rivers, houses and roads.

Secondly, and this is where things get interesting, once you have such images in your GIS project, you can create new data layers and trace features from the image into them. Through this process, you can create high-resolution data layers of features within your study area, such as the above mentioned areas of woodland and lakes. In fact, this is one of the quickest and best ways to generate high-resolution data layers of features in your local environment, especially for small study areas and parts of the world where there are few sources of suitable existing data layers.

While this video only covers the adding of Google Earth and Bing maps images to your GIS project in QGIS, you can find information on how to make new data layers here.  Similarly, the QGIS OpenLayers Plugin, which is used to import these images, can also be used to import images from OpenStreetMap, MapQuest and other potential source of GIS data that are likely to be useful to biologists, so it is really useful to know how to use this plugin.

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 #8 – How To Change How A Data Layer Is Displayed In A GIS Project

24 Apr

This video is the eighth in a series of helpful hints and handy tips for biologists who want to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their research. It provides a brief introduction on how to change how data layers are displayed in A GIS project using QGIS.

While it is often tempting to stay with the default display option selected by your GIS software when you add a new data layer to a GIS project, by changing the way that your data layers are displayed, you can greatly enhance both the contents of your GIS project, and any maps that you create from it. This video takes you through some of the different options which are available for displaying different types of data layers, including point data layers, polygon data layers and raster data layers. While these are demonstrated in QGIS, the same options are available in other GIS software packages.

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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