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GIS in Conservation Science

Module titleGIS in Conservation Science
Module codeBIOM4031
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Dr Kristian Metcalfe (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module aims to provide you with a good working knowledge of the theory and practice underpinning the application of GIS in the fields of conservation and ecology. Throughout the module you will be introduced to, and gain practical experience of using GIS software - employing a range of methods for the acquisition, manipulation, creation, analysis and visualisation of a range of spatial datasets. These practicals will underpin a range of complementary assessments that focus on enhancing your data visualisation, analytical and problem solving skills using GIS software; thereby providing you with a breadth of experience for a career in applied scientific research, industry or as a conservation practitioner.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The ability to use and understand Geographical Information System (GIS) software to create, manage and handle spatial data is a highly sought-after skillset that will enhance your professional skills and employability in the fields of biodiversity conservation and management, and more broadly in the environmental sciences. GIS practical sessions will provide a range of training - from building confidence with installing and interacting with GIS software interfaces, data import and creation, to more complex techniques for manipulating point, line, polygon and raster data that will support more complex spatial analyses, which includes using one of the most widely used decision support tools (Marxan conservation planning software) to identify priority areas for conservation within a real-world context. As part of the module you will develop your data visualisation and analytical experience, and gain experience of producing a high quality consultancy report (and supporting visuals to support your rationale and decision-making process) – all key skills that are essential for working in the conservation sector, and for disseminating information to key stakeholders (e.g. NGOs, policy makers, conservation practitioners and implementing agencies).

Transferable skills include:

  • the application of GIS as a means of solving spatial problems (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling);
  • time management (managing time effectively);
  • experience of presenting and disseminating key findings effectively using multiple formats.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Recognise and critically evaluate the utility of GIS in conservation science and environmental management applications
  • 2. Apply critical thinking approaches to best direct the collection and use of spatial data for questions with specific relevance to marine/terrestrial conservation science
  • 3. Correctly identify the relevant tools required to conduct scientific (spatial) research in marine/terrestrial ecosystems

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Critically describe current problems and/or new insights in marine/terrestrial conservation science.
  • 5. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Describe in detail some techniques applicable to research in conservation and biodiversity and identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems
  • 7. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate your conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • 9. Tackle and solve problems independently and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • 10. Work independently to advance your knowledge and understanding and develop new skills to a high level
  • 11. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements
  • 12. Effectively communicate and visualise complex ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures have been designed to provide a brief overview of the application of GIS in conservation science, thereby providing background context for practicals that will cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to GIS
  • Installing QGIS (free open source software)
  • Understanding the QGIS software interface
  • Understanding raster and vector data
  • Loading, interacting with, and saving spatial data
  • Creating, digitising and editing spatial data
  • Layer styling
  • Data visualisation (creating maps)
  • Working with and processing vector and raster data
  • Downloading and pre-processing remote sensing data
  • Conservation planning
  • Application of decision support tools to identify priority areas for conservation.
  • Running a conservation planning assessment in QGIS using Marxan
  • Field skills – including configuring, and downloading data from a handheld GPS

To aid with learning, this module includes timetabled help sessions (GIS clinics) to ensure additional support is available. Please note, whilst the modules uses examples of the application of GIS in marine conservation science and will be underpinned by marine examples, the skills gained are transferrable to terrestrial systems and species.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Preparatory lectures and seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16GIS computer practicals
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6GIS help sessions/clinics for GIS practical and module assignment support
Guided independent study123Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during GIS practicals Ongoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Group data visualisation (map-making) activityOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Discussion group and synthesis (conservation planning)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Data visualisation assessment (map making)251 map created and exported from GIS software AllWritten
Group presentation – data analysis and visualisation (problem solving)258 minute group presentation outlining aims, methods, and results of analysisAllWritten
Spatial prioritisation analyses (consultancy report)502500 words with figuresAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Data visualisation assessment (map making)Data visualisation assessment (map making)AllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Group presentation – data analysis and visualisation (problem solving)Group presentation – data analysis and visualisation (problem solving)AllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Spatial prioritisation analyses (consultancy report)Spatial prioritisation analyses (consultancy report)AllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to redo the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • McHaffie, P., Sungsoon, H. & Follett, C (2019) GIS: an introduction to mapping technologies. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. 363p.
  • Krygier, J. & Wood, D. (2016) Making maps. A visual guide to map design for GIS. Third edition. The Guildford Press. 293p.
  • Wegman, M. & Leutner, B. (2016) Remote sensing and GIS for ecologists. Pelagic Publishing. 333p.
  • Borra, S., Rohi, T. & Dey, N. (2019) Satellite Image Analysis: Clustering and Classification. Springer. 110p.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spatial analysis, spatial planning, conservation planning, spatial prioritisation, systematic conservation planning, protected areas, biodiversity management, spatial ecology, decision science, conservation, research

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date