GIS Use in Primatology

What is GIS?

GIS (Geographic Information System) is “a collection of hardware and software for the storage, retrieval, mapping and analysis of geographic data” (Setchell and Curtis, 2011). The spatial information in a GIS specify a particular location represented in a coordinate system. GIS data comes in two different types: vectors (points, lines, and polygons) and raster (grid of pixels) (Setchell and Curtis, 2011). The most common source of raster data is remote sensing, in which data is collected without direct contact (i.e. satellites). Field data gathered with a GPS provides a more fine-scale approach that cannot be obtained through satellite imagery and maps.

The thing I love about GIS is the ability to take different sets of data, create them into map layers, and overlay them to communicate meaningful information. For example (on a basic level), I was able to create a map that showed range use of a specific primate, anthropogenic disturbances (roads, infrastructures, etc), and forest cover. It was a really neat first exposure to GIS and map-making.

So how can GIS be used in Primatology exactly?

Spatial data can provide insight into individual and group movement, decision-making, social relationships, territoriality, and conservation. This data collected allows for pattern analyses and an overall different approach to understanding space use in non-human primates. A common field use of GIS is through the GPS, which can be labor-intensive, however, the trade-off is the precise information that can be obtained. Satellite imagery and other maps are useful for information of forest cover, connectivity or, potentially, disturbances.

Here are some studies that can be done as a result of GIS use (Note – behavioral data is also used, GIS is a supplement to research):

  • Population Density and Distribution (Read more in – J. Hickey: Combining GPS-level and landscape-level data to model the distribution of bonobos (Pan paniscus))
  • Investigate Home Range Use (Read more in – K.C. MacKinnon: A comparison of GPS data to investigate wild capuchin home range use in primary tropical rain forest in Suriname (Sapajus apella) and secondary tropical dry forest in Nicaragua (Cebus capucinus))
  • Determine Home Range Versus Territory – Are they territorial? Are they more territorial when females are present? When infants are present?
  • Patch Use – Which food sources do they prefer? (Read more in – C. Schaffer: GIS analysis of patch use and group cohesiveness of bearded sakis (Chiropotes sagulatus) in the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concession, Guyana)
  • Route Use – Do they use a specific route throughout the day? Is this route repeated? Does this suggest memory of these routes? (Read more in – L. Porter and P. Garber: GPS-based data analyzing route-based mental maps during traveling and foraging in wild Bolivian saddleback tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis weddelli))
  • ConservationIs habitat degradation continuing? What is the effect of habitat modification? Habitat fragmentation? What is the effect of human proximity? (Read more in – M.T. Irwin, S.E. Johnson, and P.C. Wright: The state of lemur conservation in south-eastern Madagascar: population and habitat assessments for diurnal and cathemeral lemurs using surveys, satellite imagery and GIS)

While these are only a few ideas of what you can do with GIS, there are many more I am sure that can be done! Using GIS in primatology is realitively new and should be utilized, not only for conservation purposes, but for creating a more solid investigation and data-rich results.

Image Source

Setchell, Joanna M., and Deborah J. Curtis, eds. Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology: A Practical Guide. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.

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