Brian Klinkenberg

Department of Geography, University of British Columbia


The advent of geospatial technologies has dramatically changed the way we study the natural world.  Spatial analysts now use advanced remote sensing techniques to assess climate change and air pollution transport, GPS and remote sensing to study migration of elephants and wildebeasts, and GIS mapping software to map and analyze species distributions. In this section, we explore spatial analysis and the role of  geospatial technologies in exploring and understanding biodiversity.  The evolution and widespread use of these geospatial technologies has opened new windows on how we view biodiversity and associated complexities.  Additionally, the availability of these technologies at the public level has brought in new avenues of data gathering, with VGI (Volunteer Geographic Information) and citizen science playing prominent roles in some areas of study.

What is Spatial Analysis?

Spatial analysis is the quantitative study of phenomena that are located in space. As defined by Goodchild (2001), spatial analysis encompasses a general ability to manipulate spatial data into different forms and extract additional and deeper meaning. There is growing significance of space, spatiality, location, and place in social science and physical science research.  In particular, spatial analysis plays an increasing role in Conservation Biology as the spatial dimension of species and habitats gains recognition. 

What are Geospatial Technologies?

In a simple way, geospatial technologies include the 'things' that collect and process spatial data.  That is, they are technologies that can tell us where something is on the landscape, how it uses the landscape, and even tell us details about the landscape (for example, slope, aspect, elevation).    They include:

  • GPS (Global Positioning Systems)
  • GIS (Geogrpahic Information Systems)
  • Remote Sensing
  • the GeoWeb

These technologies are used to collect multi-temporal spatial data (data collected from the same spot at different times), such as data collected by satellite.   Spatial analysts use the data collected and processed by these technologies, along with statistics and computer modelling, to analyze research problems and develop predictions.  The use of these technologies has dramatically changed how we conduct research and has led to some novel approaches in biodiversity studies and the related field of conservation biology.

Using Spatial Analysis and Geospatial Technologies in Biodiversity Research: Some Examples from our Research

Geospatial technologies and spatial analyses have opened new windows of observation in biodiversity studies.  They allow us to obtain more data, to view more data, and to visualize the results of those data.  Uses range from work in developing safe nature reserves for elephants to locating bird colonies to analyzing forest harvest activities.  Here are a few examples of related projects conducted by our research lab in the Department of Geography:

  • Elephants: Jake Wall, a graduate student in the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UBC, has been working on radio-collaring African elephants.  GPS Signals sent from the collars to Jake's cell phone alert him to when and where the elephants are on the move. The signals are then tracked remotely in order to map the path of the elephants. Learning more about elephant movements will allow us to plan for better co-existence between elephants and humans. For example, a project Jake worked on has already shown that elephants don't like to climb hills.  This means that if villages are located uphill, there is a reduced likelihood of elephants damaging village crops.
  • Yellow Cedar:  Graduate student Claire Wooton worked in the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis to investigate what is behind the yellow cedar die-off that is occuring in BC. She used a combination of remote sensing (aerial photographs) and GIS techniques to determine where decine was occurring. Then she analysed the correlation between the distribution of decline and environmental predictors using statistical regression techniques. Her work showed  that low elevation sites close to the coast in BC, which are more exposed and have more variation in elevation, are more likely to show evidence of decline.
  • Salish Sucker: Graduate student Jill Miners is presently working in the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis investigating Salish Sucker, its habitat requirements and distribution. Her work will contribute towards conservaton management for this species at risk.
  • Phantom Orchid :  Managing for rare, threatened and endangered species includes building knowledge not only on where these species occur, but also on where they might occur.  In our lab, we used predictive mapping to determine likely areas of occurrence of the phantom orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae) in the South Coast region of the British Columbia.  We worked with a variety of tools and spatial analytical techniques, including remote sensing and GIS, to study the environmental requirements of this species (soils, substrate, climate, precipitation, areas of known distributions) and then predicted likely areas of occurrence.


Please cite these pages as:

Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2017. Biodiversity of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

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