Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer systems used for storing, analyzing, and displaying spatial data. They allow researchers to visualize and investigate relationships between various geographic features, such as land, elevation, and vegetation cover.
In avian research and conservation, GIS is a powerful tool for studying bird distributions, population densities, home range characteristics, and habitat quality. With GIS we can map where birds are most active, home range sizes and overlap, and where birds build nests. We can better visualize the types of habitat where birds are most successful and locations of food sources and endangered and rare plants used by native birds.
We currently use GIS to map the activities of banded Maui Parrotbill to determine the density of breeding pairs within a portion of Hanawi Natural Area Reserve. We recently used GIS to model the the effects of climate change on movement of malaria upslope and probably decline in forest habitat for endangered native birds. Our habitat management efforts also incorporate GIS techniques to map fences, areas where we are conducting small mammal control, and habitat threats such as the appearance of new invasive species.
GIS is very helpful for creating colorful and clear visual illustrations of our work for seminars, posters, and public outreach programs. It is a big improvement in clarity and accuracy over hand drawn maps, which prior to GIS were the norm.
GIS also makes it easier for us to share data with other scientists in order to collaborate on various conservation efforts and evaluations throughout the Hawaiian islands.