GIS-Based Web Site Unites Conservation Science and Practice
By James R. Strittholt, Executive Director, Conservation Biology Institute
Conservation is becoming increasingly challenging as the world's population approaches seven billion and natural ecosystems are increasingly strained under human demand for food, water, energy, and other natural resources. Global climate change adds a heightened sense of urgency to find solutions to a growing list of complex conservation problems. To attain true ecological sustainability, we must find effective solutions to the myriad of conservation problems we face, and we must act quickly through a variety of means—new policy creation, altered management strategies, and changes to individual behaviors.
Conservation is all about place; therefore, mapping plays an integral part in successfully addressing many of today's conservation challenges. Whether it is planning for wildlife connections across a human-dominated landscape, designing strategies to minimize or offset new human infrastructure like roads and pipelines, or developing forest management plans that significantly lower the impact on native species and protect water resources, mapping is fundamental to finding solutions to these issues.
While it is impossible to know everything, many believe we know far more than is currently being applied. In many instances, the barriers to finding and implementing solutions are more constrained by political and social reasons than by the lack of scientific or technical knowledge. For example, conservation scientists and conservation practitioners too often operate in separate spheres or communities, and all would benefit greatly if they could find a common space to share and interact. Likewise, everyday citizens are keenly interested in many conservation issues and welcome the opportunity to participate to make a meaningful contribution.
Is it possible to bridge conservation science and conservation practice using GIS as the common language? Could a GIS approach be fashioned that would meet a high scientific standard while, at the same time, appeal to nonscientists? Could the political and social challenges we face be addressed simultaneously with the technical ones? And finally, could a solution be constructed that would have immediate benefits but be flexible enough to meet new social and technical challenges in the future? These were the questions the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) was asked to address by the Wilburforce Foundation, which has spearheaded this effort.
After more than two years of design, programming, and user prototype testing, the Conservation Biology Institute has launched a new Web site called Data Basin. Built on the ArcGIS Online technological foundation and with direct support from Esri's Professional Services staff, Data Basin is an innovative Web tool that is free and available to all users.
Data Basin is based on six major building blocks—datasets, maps, galleries, people, groups, and tools. Users can easily search for any or all of these items within the system.
Datasets are spatially explicit files, currently shapefiles and ArcGrid files, with other formats (e.g., image files and geodatabases) being incorporated soon. These can be biological, physical, or socioeconomic datasets that can be uploaded by users, downloaded, or visualized inside Data Basin. More than 1,000 datasets are currently in the Data Basin warehouse, with more being added every day. In addition, Data Basin is linked with other Web map services allowing greater content to users. While data sharing is the primary theme of Data Basin, sometimes privacy is required to advance conservation. Therefore, users can elect to make datasets they upload totally private, available to specific groups, or available to everyone. Some types of datasets are the following:
Anyone with an Esri Global Account can join Data Basin. Once registered, users are asked to complete a simple, editable profile page so others can get to know them. Users are then provided with their own private workspace where they can easily organize content that they contributed or find in the system; create and edit personal profiles; manage their account; track creation of datasets, maps, and galleries; and manage their group activity.
Data Basin is closely integrated with various social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—and has incorporated RSS feeds throughout the site for easy topic or item monitoring by users. Now users can interact easily with conservation data and maps, as well as each other, in the same system.
The depth and breadth of Data Basin is so vast that breaking up some of the content for users was important—to essentially provide users with different doorways into the same basic system. This was attained by introducing the concept of centers. Centers are topics or geographies of special interest to Data Basin users. Users can find specific datasets, maps, galleries, people, groups, and analytic tools under each center. Three centers currently exist within Data Basin. Thanks to generous support from the Kresge Foundation, the Data Basin Climate Center and Aquatic Conservation Center have been initiated. The Boreal Information Centre is the third center and focuses on conservation of the North American boreal forest region. This center is currently funded by the Ivey Foundation, Limited Brands, TNC, and Toronto Dominion Bank. Other centers are being designed and include a Connectivity Center, a Conservation Education Center, and an Aboriginal Peoples Center.
In addition to the datasets and maps, Data Basin provides users with information about conservation based on the ever-growing content of the site. Various components are routinely featured, giving emphasis to noteworthy contributions. Data Basin supports its own active blog with content frequently updated by CBI staff and guest bloggers.
About the Author
Jim Strittholt is executive director of the Conservation Biology Institute, Corvallis, Oregon, and has over 10 years' experience in applying computer mapping technologies (including GIS and remote sensing) to address various ecological assessments and conservation planning projects in the United States and internationally. He holds a master's degree from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
For more information, visit www.databasin.org or contact Jim Strittholt (e-mail: email@example.com, tel.: 541-757-0687); Tosha Comendant, Data Basin project coordinator, Conservation Biology Institute (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel.: 707-266-4270); or Erin Ross, Esri (e-mail: email@example.com).