Using GIS to Manage Invasive Species

One of the emerging tools in natural resource management is the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These systems use hardware, such as GPS units, and software to create, manage, and analyze geographical data. Google Earth is a type of GIS. The satellite images provide the background data, and the roads, park boundaries, water bodies, and place names are different geographic “layers” that can be added on to create custom maps. Although this is very handy for navigation, GIS is also especially useful for tracking and managing invasive species.

The simplest use of geo-locating technology is to mark where invasive plants are found. Anyone with a handheld GPS can save a point in their unit to mark where an invasion is, then navigate to that point again later for follow-up treatments. GPS units can also record tracks, which are the paths that the GPS has travelled. Tracks come in handy for walking a perimeter around a patch of invasive plants, allowing the user to get an idea of how extensive an invasion is. Data recorded on a GPS can be uploaded into free software, like Google Earth, to view exactly where the points and tracks lie. This free software also often includes tools you can use to measure distances and areas. If you have several years’ worth of data, you can see how invasions change in size and shape over time.

With more sophisticated GIS software, such as ArcGIS, land managers can view the data they collect in the field in relation to other natural resource data. For example, the points at which an invasive plant is found can be overlaid on top of maps of soil type, ecosystem type, slope, and elevation. With this information, land managers can look for environmental patterns in where the invasions occur, and they can build models that will predict where conditions are right for a possible future invasion. This allows them to increase monitoring efforts in susceptible areas in order to protect them before they are invaded as well. GIS software can also allow land managers to track their management activities, for instance, allowing them to record where different treatments, such as mowing, burning, or spraying, have taken place, as well as the timeframe when the treatment occurred. GIS is a very flexible and powerful tool which will no doubt play an increasingly important role in invasive management in the future.


Example Graphic of GIS use from Indian Springs Metropark

Guest post by Becky Gajewski

Becky holds a M.S. from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and is a GIS intern at Michigan Tech Research Institute. She also works for the Huron-Clinton Metropark Authority as a Natural Resource Technician.  Becky has done extensive work with GIS mapping and analysis at work and also as a student instructor at U of M. 


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