By Taylor Passucci

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

The implementation of geographic information systems (GIS) analysis and applications can positively impact personal and professional lives. From creating professional maps for organizations, to looking up the crime stats for a neighborhood I’m considering moving to, GIS has become a second-nature skill that helps me develop a multidimensional understanding of a situation. In general, I think many people do not understand the intersectional application that GIS have. When I talk to fellow students and colleagues I often hear the phrase “oh, like the map stuff?” While mapping is admittedly a large part of GIS work, it also can be incorporated into biological, political, computational and social sciences to name a few.

This same practice can dramatically increase accessibility and productivity in an organization like Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum. My fellow GIS interns and I, led by staff members Maricela Avalos and Mike Kost, have proposed and produced some ways GIS can enrich our research and help ensure data preservation. I will cover three of the current projects we are working on:

Interactive Online Maps

GIS map of Matthaei Botanical Gardens
POI and Trail Map of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Fellow intern Daniel Wu (see Daniel’s blog post) and I have produced interactive online maps for the Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum properties. These maps highlight the trails, points of interest, and informational kiosks found on the properties and can help guests plan an efficient trip before they are on the grounds. It works as a helpful aid in route planning, especially for guests with limited accessibility or small children. Also due to their digital format, these maps can be updated and maintained more frequently without the restrictions of ordering and printing.

IMLS Botanical Survey Applications

Using results from a 2011-2012 survey funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (conducted by B. Walters, M. Hejna, C. Crancer, J. Plakke) we were able to create a query map in the Web AppBuilder program, developed by GIS software leader Esri. This application will allow staff, research students, and perhaps, eventually, the public to locate specific natural communities, forest cover types, and flora on the Matthaei Botanical Garden, Nichols Arboretum, Horner McLaughlin Woods and Mud Lake Bog Properties. The user can select to search in terms of natural community, forest cover type, or family and scientific name. The query narrows the data down to a specific study area, giving the user an idea of where to look for a specific natural community or organism. This map can then be in the user’s pocket while in the field and the “My Location” button can help navigate to find the particular study area. By narrowing the search area the user can optimize their time in the field.

GIS map of Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Results of query for emergent marsh natural community for the Matthaei Botanical Garden Property.
Enterprise Database

The largest project we are working on is the development and implementation of an enterprise geodatabase. While there is an existing Microsoft Access database, switching to an enterprise geodatabase allows us to also store geographic information with the entries added to the database while maintaining multiuse accessibility. At an organization like Matthaei-Nichols this is particularly useful because we could track the specific location of a plant, an animal sighting, or a tribute gift. A really important aspect of the development is making it very accessible and user friendly, so staff is incentivized to use it. We are tackling that task by creating a form-based survey that allow users to add data via an app. The form maintains the integrity of the data and insures all added data is in a uniform and concise arrangement, which is optimal for analysis. In addition the geodatabase consolidates data from all different staff members in one convenient place that ensures preservation of the data for years to come. The forms have features that protect the data from errors such as misspellings by using autocomplete fill-ins, which is particularly useful when adding scientific names. When the geodatabase is complete we will be able to digitize decades-old existing records and ensure longevity of said data. Once everything is transferred and new sights are recorded in the same format, research can be conducted to analyze trends and monitor areas if we see changes in population or condition over time. Long-term studies are extremely important to understanding biological sciences, and this geodatabase will make that process much easier.

From visitor/administrative purposes to research “there’s an (GIS) app for that”. The intersectionality of the field is what initially drew me in, and I am so happy I get to see all the ways GIS is utilized at Matthaei-Nichols!

Taylor Passucci
Taylor Passucci is a senior at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in Earth Science. Taylor is also enrolled in the Geographic Information Systems Certificate program and is working as a GIS intern at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens this summer. She is most excited about furthering her knowledge in the developing geospatial field and working on both team and individually driven projects. Taylor’s internship was made possible by a gift from Paula Piehl to further studies of natural history and the preservation of ecological biodiversity and to encourage the study of rare and endangered species.