PS 45-50
GIS can enable interdisciplinary understanding of natural history

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center
Jim Alford, Geography, Sacramento City College, Sacramento, CA
Celia Condit, Searcher Natural History Tours, San Diego, CA, CA
Charles Howell, WFO Images, San Diego, CA

This study demonstrates the utility of GIS to foster cross-discipline training in natural history. Both the education and career paths of scientists reward specialization. On the other hand, interpretation of natural history requires broad multidisciplinary knowledge. California’s whale watching industry provides a good example of the problem. Multi-day trips to Baja California typically visit Pacific and Sea of Cortez islands for hikes. Guides are usually marine mammologists with knowledge of pelagic birds. It can be a challenge for the guides to identify the diverse flora or interpret the terrestrial vegetation, especially on remote islands with high endemism. A trip with Searcher Natural History Tours in April 2014 provided an opportunity to address this problem. A Nikon AW110 GPS digital camera was used to document plant locations and identities.


The georeferenced photos were downloaded with Nikon utilities, mapped with Google Earth and Arc Map 10.2. Products produced included a narrative describing the plants and vegetation types found on the route, maps of photo points with plant ID, and text files for upload to handhelds. The materials produced are easy to use and understand. This simple use of consumer GPS products demonstrates the potential to increase cross-discipline understanding of natural history using such tools.