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GIS in Conservation Science

Module titleGIS in Conservation Science
Module codeBIOM4031
Academic year2020/1
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 biodiversity conservation, spatial ecology and conservation decision-making (decision science). Throughout the module you will be introduced to, and gain practical experience of employing a range of methods for the acquisition, manipulation, analysis and visualisation of spatial datasets using real-world examples. These practicals will underpin a GIS assessment (spatial prioritisation analyses) where you will use one of the most widely used decision support tools (Marxan conservation planning software) to identify priority areas for conservation within a real-world context, and produce a consultancy report and supporting visuals to support your rationale and decision-making process, thereby providing you with a greater understanding of approaches to balancing conservation and development objectives, and 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 environmental sciences. GIS practical sessions will provide a range of training in basic skills such as data collection and import, to more complex techniques for manipulating point, line, polygon and raster data that will support more complex spatial analyses, such as species and habitat mapping, mapping of ocean remote sensing data and analysis of animal movement (biologging) data. As part of the module you will produce a high-quality consultancy report and data visualisation assessments to build skills that are essential 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 the practicals that will underpin module assignments (data visualisation assessments and consultancy report), which will typically cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to GIS (data management, import)
  • Spatial analyses (and calculating spatial statistics) and making shapefiles
  • Working with vector and raster datasets
  • Marine habitat and feature mapping (georeferencing and digitising spatial data)
  • Analysing and mapping animal movement (biologging) data
  • Mapping and manipulating ocean remote sensing data
  • Mapping socioeconomic/human activities in marine space
  • Application of decision support tools to identify priority areas for conservation.
  • Data visualisation (map making)

This module also has supervised help sessions (GIS clinics) to provide support for module assignments. Please note, whilst the modules uses examples of the application of GIS in marine conservation science and will be underpinned by marine examples, many of the skills gained are transferrable, and have been applied 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 (2 x 1 hours) and seminars (1 x 3 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16GIS computer practicals (8 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6GIS help sessions/clinics for GIS practical and module assignment support (2 x 3 hours)
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

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 assessment252-3 power point slides with maps and infographics AllWritten
Consultancy report (spatial prioritisation analyses) 752500 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 assessmentData visualisation assessmentAllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Consultancy report (spatial prioritisation analyses)Consultancy report (spatial prioritisation analyses)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

  • Law, M., & Collins, A. (2013) Getting to know ArcGIS for Desktop. ESRI Press.
  • Gorr, W.L., & Kurland, K. S. (2013) GIS tutorial 1: Basic workbook for ArcGIS 10.1. ESRI Press.
  • Allen, D.W. (2013) GIS Tutorial 2: Spatial Analysis Workbook: for ArcGIS 10.1. ESRI Press.
  • Allen, D.W., & Coffey, J. M. (2010) GIS Tutorial 3: Advanced Workbook. ESIR Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE page:
  • Ardron, J.A., Possingham, H.P., and Klein, C.J. (2010) Marxan Good Practices Handbook, Version 2. Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA), Victoria, BC, Canada.
  • Marxan User Guides 

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spatial analysis in GIS, 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