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GPS in Support of
Biodiversity and
Greg Carlino, Ben Schmitz, and Erin Martin
Biodiversity – “Earth’s rich variety of
distinct species, the genetic variability within
them, and the natural communities and
ecosystems they inhabit.” (The Earth in Balance)
Ecosystem – “A community of plants and
animals together with the physical
environment they inhabit.” (American Heritage Dictionary)
Importance of
Leads to a sustainable environment
– Less susceptible to disease, drought, etc.
– Economic value of diversity
– Culture and identity
Widely researched topic
GPS and Environmental
 Large datasets
 Variable accuracy
 Compatible with remote sensing, GIS,
and traditional surveying
 Economic method of data collection
Biodiversity in Brazil
Nature Conservancy Study
Needs info about flora (plants) and fauna
(animals), and their habitats in order to
prioritize conservation efforts.
Often needs to make informed decisions
Use REA coarse/fine filter approach (6 mo.)
– Remote Sensing (initial classification)
– Field Observations (verify classifications)
– Overflights (verify areas inaccessible by foot)
Assumption that drier highland areas
were located outside the existing park
was proven correct
 Total of 148,200 acres of land
identified as prime conservation areas
and acquired
Gone Fishing in the
Pacific Northwest
GPS Used to Map Chinook Salmon
Spawning Habitat
– Salmon part of identity, culture, religion,
and economic system of people
Series of hydroelectric dams built on
Snake River
– Salmon listed as endangered
– Corps required to do a study
PNNL Study
Search for redds (salmon nests)
– One month window
– Used GPS, GIS, Underwater Video
– GIS query to find likely locations
– Transects set up
 Boat
location tracked with 12-channel, L1,
C/A –code Trimble Pro XR GPS receiver
 Underwater camera
 Onboard PC for real-time visualization
Redd Spottings…
Shore-based surveyor with laser
transit and prism on boat
– Also depthfinder, current profiler, camera
Rebar with survey tape used to mark
 DGPS later used
– Submeter accuracy obtained on a moving
boat on a reference-free river with high
canyon walls
Redds mapped at around 1m accuracy
Corps could plan construction projects
and dam operations that would
minimize effect on Chinook Salmon
Technique has been applied elsewhere
Saving an Endangered Species
GPS Used to Monitor and Manage
Wild Horse and Burro Herds in West
Symbols of the West
– By mid 19th Century, 2 million horses
roamed North America
– Inhumane capture and destruction for
commercial purposes reduced numbers
to 17,000 by 1971
– Congress passes Wild Free-Roaming
Horse and Burro Act (1971)
Resource Management
Jurisdiction of Bureau of Land
Management (div. of Dpt. of Interior)
 Collecting base information 80% of
total cost (gather, analyze, display)
 Tracking Horses
– Use GPS in conjunction with PC to
provide automated field data collection
 Supplies
needed reference framework
(grounding) for GIS mapping and analysis
Why GPS ?
BLM’s findings are often challenged
– Need to display current and past flight
paths and other supporting data
System must be accurate to 40 meters
 System must be capable of recording
data in a downloadable format for use
in subsequent Land Information
Using GPS to Research
Animal Species
– 1995 study of Southern Elephant Seals in
Falkland Islands
– Goal to reach conclusion about individual
variation and evolution of social behavior
Why use mapping to study seals?
– Space related phenomenon
 Territorial
– Tracking of “tagged” individuals provides
huge amounts of data (activity, movement)
– Study of long-distance migratory species
GPS in Use
Mapping perimeter of harems
 Tracking of Alpha-males and primary
breeding females
 Data used to tabulate census numbers
and population density
Advantages of GPS
Operates under any weather conditions
– Harsh Falkland Island climate
Poor land mobility of seals means that
spatial relationships must be defined
over short distances
– Sub meter accuracy required
Ease and speed of use
 Data format easily transformed
National Institute of Water and
Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
Another agency that has implemented GPS into
many research projects involving marine taxonomy
– biodiversity inventory
40 years of oceanographic sampling in New
Zealand, Australia, Pacific Islands, and Antarctica
1992 Convention on Biological Diversity ruled that
member nations must inventory habitats and
species for sustainable resource management –
GPS helped NIWA accomplish this goal.
Underwater cameras aided by satellite navigation
system to create a biodiversity research library
Save the Elephant Organization
Charity founded in 1993 by
Dr. Ian Douglas-Hamilton
who made a pioneering
study of elephant behavior
Used GPS collars to study
long distance movements
of herds
Needed to determine how
elephants make decisions
concerning where to roam
in order to predict
ecological changes on
elephants and the
biodiversity of the area
Elephant Migration Map
Map created by
collecting and
plotting GPS coordinates of Stratus
(family matriarch)
Proved long
standing theory that
elephants were
traveling from
Samburu all the
way to Il Ngwesi
Forest Fragment
Manaus, Brazil
 Objective to map biomass changes in
central Amazonia
 Relate field data with remote sensing
data from Landsat TM images
GPS and Environmental
 Large datasets
 Variable accuracy
 Compatible with remote sensing, GIS,
and traditional surveying
 Economic method of data collection
The Earth in Balance, Maintaining Brazil’s Biodiversity, GPS
World, June 1996.
Track ‘em Cowboy! GPS Rides the Range, GPS World,
September 1995.
Reed Recon: Mapping Chinook Spawning Habitat, GPS
World, January 1999.
A Very Spatial Relationship, GPS Mapping Aids
Understanding of Elephant Seal Behavior, GPS World, July
The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Houghton
Mifflin Company, Boston, 1985.