Geographic Information Systems

Scientists in the Garden’s GIS laboratory integrate data from all science departments in order to study the geography of plant diversity. Work in the laboratory centers on analyzing plant distribution data using visualization techniques. GIS studies form the basis of plant conservation assessments, which rely on determining the risk status of plants based on their geographic range. This GIS modeling of plant species information provides invaluable data for human decisions, such as habitat conservation for threatened species, and best practices for protection of species at risk of extinction.

While maps have been in use for millennia, geographic information systems now allow the combination of digital maps, computer graphics, and critical other sets of information for rigorous analyses of the Earth’s surface. The Botanical Garden’s GIS Laboratory constructs geographic information systems as analytical tools for Garden scientists, post-doctoral researchers, graduate students, and research associates.

The William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and other herbaria around the world are the source of one of the most critical layers of information for GIS analysis carried out at the Garden- plant collections made in specific places at specific times. Provided specimen locality information has been georeferenced- that is, aligned with an Earth coordinate system such as latitude and longitude-herbarium specimen information can be modeled in GIS to help understand an individual plant species’ range, population density, area of occupancy, or other attributes.

This GIS modeling of plant species information, in turn, provides compelling arguments for human decisions that involve a geographic component, such conservation of habitats for threatened species or best practices for protection of a species at risk of extinction throughout some or all of its range.