Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is one of the most mis-understood acronyms we come across. Everyone seems to agree that it GIS valuable, but few can explain precisely what is, and why you should spend money on it.
This article explains what GIS is and how we use it at Advanced Invasives to tackle our clients' problems with invasive non-native plants such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan Balsam.
GIS is confusing because it is often used mistakenly to describe four closely related, but distinct things;
GIS as database
So, what then is GIS?
GIS is the underlying computerised database of the spatial information of a problem, from which all other analysis can then performed.
Think of a visitor map of central London, something like the modern-day Legible London pedestrian map for example;
The value of GIS
A simple PDF map of say parks in central London would offer only the most basic geographic understanding of the location, shape and size of the various greenspaces.
A database of the same information is much more valuable because it could be used to reveal relationships with other data. Variation in house prices, localised pollution levels, pedestrian movement densities or types of crime may all have some relationships with parks for example.
So, a GIS database is valuable because once it has is been defined, it provides the baseline from which all other types of analysis can be performed, revealing patterns within and also outside of the dataset.
GIS in the Invasive Species Context
In the context of invasive species GIS is useful because:
How GIS is created
There are six basic stages to creating and using a GIS asset:
Make it visible
Creating GIS assets is time consuming to undertake; however, this should be weighed against savings made by avoiding ineffectual, repeated cycles of on-site herbicide treatment.
GIS is useful because it makes complex invasive species problems more visible.
We use GIS to take a problem that may be multi-site, multi-stakeholder and seemingly intractable and create a single, tangible resource which can then be used to steer and assess decision-making objectively. Creating a GIS asset also anticipates the need for a common resource, around which future site intervention can be organised.
Using GIS in this manner moves invasives management away from an entirely reactive, fire-fighting approach, that over time is very costly and demoralising, to a pro-active, intentional and utlimately effective strategy.
In combination with more conventional physical or chemical control protocols, GIS offers a more complete approach to long-term invasive species management. GIS can serve as the neutral asset needed to resolve politically sensitive disputes and also meet future requirements for salient ecological information.
The value of GIS should not be under or overstated. Often one can see examples of where GIS is used more to impress than being a necessary tool for the problem at hand.
At Advanced Invasives we use GIS sparingly, where it brings clarity to an especially challenging invasives problem and because it helps our clients organise and save money on long-term control strategy.
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