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
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.
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!