Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Designing Wildlife Corridors Helps Species Survive

I was recently asked if I could provide some quotes for a story about using GIS in my industry. The author who reached out to me is looking for examples of how and why we use GIS across many different industries. I decided I'd like to point the author to my blog, since I've published numerous blog posts about using GIS for wildlife conservation. And then I remembered a similar event that occurred around the summer of 2010, when an ambitious ESRI intern contacted me to discuss the benefits of GIS for designing wildlife corridors for an article she was writing. I don't think I shared this article on my blog in the past, so I'd like to now. I'd like to give a special thanks to Amanda Artz for putting this together. She interviewed nearly everyone on my team at Northern Arizona University where I was a GIS Analyst at the time. We provided her with the maps, photos, and what expertise we could. The article published in ArcNews Fall 2010, is posted below.

Designing Wildlife Corridors Helps Species Survive


  • Wildlife corridors reduce fragmented populations, increase biodiversity, and decrease wildlife-vehicle collisions on highways.
  • CorridorDesigner is a suite of tools for ArcGIS for creating habitat and corridor models.
  • Tools based on ArcGIS streamline the wildlife corridor design and management process.

Habitat loss is the number one threat to biodiversity. With increasing human population growth and urbanization, wildlife habitat continues to decline and become fragmented. Fragmentation and isolation can have dramatic negative effects on plant and wildlife populations, ranging from decreased genetic diversity to extinction. Restoring and protecting existing habitat and providing linkages between fragmented areas are becoming critically important to the continued existence of many species. Wildlife habitat corridors allow populations to interact; interbreed; and, as climate changes, shift their geographic range. Planning, designing, and implementing wildlife corridors can be difficult, but GIS technology is helping streamline the process.

Multispecies linkage of the area between 
Hualapai and Peacock Mountains, Arizona.
It didn't take long for Northern Arizona University's School of Forestry professor Paul Beier to realize the importance of wildlife corridors. While studying mountain lion populations in the Santa Ana Mountain Range in California during 1988–1992, Beier noted that habitat fragmentation was the biggest problem the big cats were facing. Without habitat corridor links between mountain ranges, the Southern California mountain lion population would be doomed. "I documented that based on their demography, they must have connectivity, and that based on animal movement, they'd use linkages that were available if we gave them half a chance," says Beier. "They were using some highly degraded existing corridors, and so I got really excited at the prospect of designing corridors on purpose. Wouldn't that be terrific?"

Years later at Northern Arizona University, Dan Majka began working with Beier. Majka created corridor models using ArcGIS based on methodology designed by Beier and South Coast Wildlands, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring functional habitat connectivity. To improve workflow and analysis speed, Majka refined, enhanced, and implemented the organization's tools into a toolset called CorridorDesigner through Northern Arizona University's Esri university site license.

CorridorDesigner is a suite of tools for ArcGIS for creating habitat and corridor models. It provides a user-friendly, three-step process that applies least cost modeling for multiple focal species. The core input is habitat suitability modeling, which allows users to assess the quality of habitat for a species within the study area or a modeled corridor and mask out any unsuitable habitat.
GIS habitat suitability models relate suitability to raster-based layers, such as land use/land cover, elevation, topographic position, human disturbance (e.g., distance from roads, road density, housing density), or other relevant data. Using this data and a habitat suitability threshold that ranks habitat quality for breeding, the user can model a single species corridor, then repeat the procedure for other species. Next, the user can join the single species corridor models to create a preliminary linkage design. This union of corridor data is the most obvious way to ensure that all target species are included.

photo by Donna Krucki
Mountain lion mother and cub in Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, California, are photographed by motion-activated camera (photo by Donna Krucki).
The CorridorDesigner tools connect the best available habitat for individual wildlife species between two larger habitat blocks. All would be well if this exact region could be conserved. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the best choice areas are usually not available for corridor development, so the model is best used as a baseline to compare alternatives.

GIS consultant Jeff Jenness, GISP, joined the project and lent his expertise by creating an ArcGIS extension for CorridorDesigner that provides a set of tools to evaluate the best corridors and compare them with more realistic alternatives. These tools include calculation of patch-to-patch distances, bottleneck analysis, size-weighted general statistics, size-weighted histogram statistics, size-weighted cross-tabulation statistics, and cumulative surface tools. These statistics help land managers and conservation investors make educated decisions about what to conserve. By factoring in the reality conservationists face every day, this extension ensures that the optimal corridor is designed using what land is available.

Climate and Transportation Concerns


New concerns about a changing climate have forced wildlife managers to rethink how corridors should be designed for the success of species in the future. In response, spatial analyst Brian Brost and Jenness have added another set of tools to the CorridorDesigner toolbox, including the ArcGIS extension Land Facet CorridorDesigner and a set of complementary land facet functions that run in the computer program R. Land facets are based only on topographic and soil features on the landscape, which don't change over time and will not change as climate changes. "Until now, corridors were primarily designed to encourage movement of focal species through present land-cover maps," says Jenness. "Because of the strong possibility that land-cover maps will change in this century, any corridor linkage based on those maps might fail due to climate change." It is thought that future vegetation (and, indirectly, animal assemblages) will be determined primarily by the interaction among land facets and future climate regimes. This land facet approach is a valuable geographic approach to designing wildlife corridors that considers the future effects of climate change.

Wildlife corridors don't just conserve connectivity; they also provide ways to make highways safer for both people and wildlife. The CorridorDesigner tools can be useful in helping determine the ideal location of wildlife crossings for various species along major thoroughfares and highways. Building these crossings reduces wildlife-vehicle collisions, leading to a decrease in mortality on highways for countless animals while keeping drivers safe. "For large mammals like mountain lions that tend to occur in low densities and take several years to raise their young, the loss of an individual can have a snowball effect on a local population," says Emily Garding, a wildlife biologist/GIS analyst for the Arizona Missing Linkages Project, who has worked extensively with the CorridorDesigner tools. "I'm excited that our work promotes developing a more wildlife-friendly transportation infrastructure that will contribute to maintaining sustainable wildlife populations."

The significance of wildlife corridors is clear. "Corridors are important because they provide a way of connecting species and habitats in a changing world," says Majka. "They provide a possible way to deal with increased pressures, whether it's urbanization or fragmentation; increased transportation; and climate change." GIS-based tools have significantly streamlined the design and implementation of corridors. With GIS, CorridorDesigner, and the continued support and enthusiasm of people like those who work on and with these tools, wildlife can look forward to a sustainable, connected future.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Put Yourself on the Map with GIS Tribe!

GIS Tribe is a worldwide online supportive GIS community that is open to anyone interested in GIS. We recently hosted our first live web chat on Twitter with people tweeting in from all over the U.S., Europe, and Africa. It was great to connect with GIS tweeps from across the globe and we're planning to do it again, Wednesdays from 12 to 1 PM Pacific time.

To give us a picture of where the members are from, and because we're clearly interested in all things mapping, I decided to create an interactive map using ArcGIS online and invite GIS Tribe members to add their location. This is a good opportunity for me to learn how to create and embed an interactive webmap in a website, and learn how to set the properties so that the map can collect crowdsourced data. This should be pretty easy to do, I thought. Right? Well... not exactly.

From what I gathered through various tutorials, I need to have an "organizational level" membership at ArcGIS online in order to create an editable feature service (editable= others can add their locations). So I created one for GIS Tribe using the option for a free 30-day Trial. This means GIS Tribe members have 30 days to add themselves to the map! And what happens to the map at the end of the 30 day trial, well, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

In ArcGIS Online, I created a map called GIS Tribe Members using the National Geographic world basemap. Then I created Feature Layer using an existing ESRI template for Locations and then Edited it to add my location (Sedona, AZ).

Making the map editable was the tricky part for me. I set the Share Properties to "Everyone (Public)" for both the Map and the Feature Layer. Then I embedded the map in my blog by copying and pasting the HTML code. As you can see, the map sits prettily at the end of this post. But this map does not appear to be editable. So after much trial and error, I discovered that people could access the editable map using a link to the original map at ArcGIS online.

So, (drumroll please) to add your location,
  • Open this map,
  • Zoom in to your location on the basemap,
  • Click the Edit tool button (the pencil icon), 
  • click the Location symbol on the Add Features panel, 
  • move the mouse pointer over the map, 
  • then click to add your location to the map.

View Larger Map

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wanna talk #GIS? Join the First #GIStribe Chat! Wednesday March 19 at 12pm PST

What: GIS Twitter Chat 

A social network of GIS geeks, ninjas, students, teachers, entrepreneurs, and professionals
When: Wednesdays at 3pm EST / 12 pm PST 
Where: Hosted on Twitter using hashtag #GIStribe

Who: People from all over the world interested in GIS

 The #GIStribe is hosting the inaugural weekly hour long chat hosted on Twitter where anyone can follow, join in, and contribute to their heart's desire. It is designed to help people interested in GIS build a supportive global online GIS community to meet people, learn from each other, discuss interesting topics, troubleshoot, and inspire. We'll talk software, tools, problems, solutions, exchange tips, tricks, and more. The sky is not the limit, because, well, that's just too limiting...

If you need help with how to join a Hashtag Chat don't fret, there are plenty of resources to get you started. A hashtag is a predetermined alphanumeric sequence that begins with a pound sign, in this case "#GIStribe" (minus the quotation marks).  

We'll keep track of the conversation by adding the characters #GIStribe to each tweet designated for the chat. To follow along, you can do a hashtag search on Twitter. If you prefer using a dashboard interface like Hootsuite, or  Tweetdeck,  most will allow you to create a column in your feed using a search that will display all the tweets with this hashtag so you can follow along easily. For those of you who need help narrowing it down more,  Tweetchat is a tool that will let you view only the hashtagged tweets....the list goes on. Pick one and let's chat!
To contribute to the chat, be on Twitter (or your preferred alternative) on Wednesday at 12 PM PST, search for #GIStribe, and remember to add #GIStribe to your tweets.

Join the tribe and get chatting!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mapping Wildlife Crossings with Google Maps A.K.A. How to Embed an Interactive Google Map in Blogger

If you're one of my followers, you know that I've been using fancy high end GIS software (read: ArcGIS) to map important wildlife areas for many moons. I run least-cost path algorithms to identify potential wildlife corridors and map the outputs. If you don't know what any of that means, don't worry, you don't have know any of that lingo to make a map, and you don't have to hire a highly trained expensive GIS professional to do it for you (but if you still want to, just give me a call...). There's an easy way to add interactive maps to your website using Google Maps, and I'm about to show you how.

Let's use the potential wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon and California's 101 as an example. This area has been on wildlife biologists' radar for many years now, since it serves as an important connection for wildlife moving between the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Simi Hills, and the Santa Susana Mountains. In fact this area is a hotbed of wildlife vehicle collisions, including collisions that have killed a number of the rarest, coolest creatures in those hills, mountain lions. Researchers who've have been tracking the mountain lions for over a decade have documented only 1 lion that crossed the 101 in this area- and lived to tell.

Clearly, if we're going to write about this location, we need a map of the area in our story. Below is an example of a "static" map that the Santa Monica Fund features on their website to point out the area where a safe crossing for wildlife should be built.

Not bad, right? But like I said, this map is static, meaning its not much different from an image, except that its an image of a map. So let's say we want to be able to zoom in and out on the map, pan around, find our favorite hiking trail, examine things more closely, or just "interact" with the map in general. That's where Google Maps comes in. Google Maps are interactive by nature.

To add a Google Map, we'll follow these steps:
  1. Open a new tab and go to Google Maps. Type in the location you wish to display in the search bar. In this case, I'll type "Liberty Canyon Rd, Agoura Hills, CA"
  2. Now a map of the area is displayed where I can zoom in and out, pan up, down and all around, and even toggle between satellite imagery and a more traditional map. I'll move around the map until I get it centered the way I want it to appear in my blog.
  3. Once I have the map looking the way I want to display it in my Blogger post, I go to the bottom right of the window containing the map (location/icon subject to change) and click on an icon that is shaped like a gear, then select "Share and Embed Map."
  4. In the dialogue window that appears, I select the Embed Map tab, then copy the code that appears near the top of the map.
  5. Returning to Blogger, I paste the code in my post....and Voila. To make any edits to the code, be sure to use the HTML viewer option in Blogger.

Look at that, a lovely interactive map embedded right in my blog and I didn't even have to open any GIS software. Pretty slick, right? 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Wildlife Crossings in Action, Help Bears Get Action....

Giant culverts positioned strategically underneath a 4-lane highway are providing safe passageways for bears in Banff National Park. The Trans-Canada wildlife corridors are helping reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, preserve habitat connectivity, and maintain the genetic integrity of bear population. According to this article, a single bear traversed the tunnels to mate with five female bears and sire 11 cubs, and the tunnels have reduced road kills in the park by a whopping 80%.

I really hope the National Park System in the U.S. follows in the footsteps of their progressive Canadian neighbors. Its tragic to think of how many wild animals get obliterated on roads across our national parks by the very people who are there to enjoy nature...