CONS 620: Spatial Ecology, Geospatial Analysis, and Remote Sensing for Conservation

Participants work on a group exercise in the Fall 2012 course.

Conservation inherently concerns space and geography. Space, because usually we have to determine the area needed to conserve a species, community or ecosystem. Geography, because the location of a biodiversity target relative to a critical resource or threat frequently affects long-term conservation outcomes. Geospatial analysis tools, including satellite imagery, computer-based modeling, and mapping systems such as GIS, have radically transformed our ability to study the spatial ecology and conservation geographies of species, communities and ecosystems. These geospatial technologies allow us to detect, delineate, and monitor natural biological systems. New advances in spatial ecology permit us to consider these data in the context of our ecological understanding and to generalize these patterns to advance ecological theories and their applications. Taken together these disciplines and techniques give conservation biologists and practitioners a powerful toolbox.

This course provides a comprehensive overview of these disciplines and tools and includes hand-on tutorials ranging from land cover mapping and home range analysis to modeling of habitat selection and mapping species distributions. The course is focused on addressing conservation research problems using the GIS toolbox. Participants will learn to use commercially available software such as ArcMap, ArcMap Spatial Analyst, ERDAS Imagine, as well as selected open-source GIS tools such as QGIS, Geospatial Modelling Environment (GME), and R.

The first week focuses on basic concepts in spatial ecology and GIS, including: data types, entering data, on-screen digitizing, projections, queries, spatial queries, spatial joins, analyzing and displaying data, making maps, Boolean arithmetic, basic geographic analysis (e.g. buffer, overlays, distance, neighborhood analysis), hydrography tools, suitability analysis, corridor modeling, and a brief introduction to open-source GIS (QGIS & R).

The second week focuses on remote sensing and advanced GIS modeling, including: making a land cover map from a Landsat satellite image, detecting forest cover change using Landsat, using R for supervised image classification, home range analysis (ArcMap and R), species distribution modeling (dismo package in R), integrating NDVI data into species habitat or distribution modeling, and developing logistic regression habitat models.

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the basics of geospatial analysis and the types of data used
  • Conduct remote sensing analysis and use satellite data to make land cover and habitat maps or measure environmental variation, such as primary productivity
  • Design and perform analysis using GIS data and spatial analysis techniques
  • Conduct a basic land cover change assessment using satellite imagery
  • Link species presence/absence or abundance data to other spatial data in a GIS
  • Compare existing techniques for modeling species habitat, niche selection, and distribution
  • Apply advanced spatial analysis techniques to real-world conservation and ecology problems, with case examples based on Smithsonian research



October 16-27, 2017


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA

Application Procedure

Spatial Ecology, Geospatial Analysis and Remote Sensing for Conservation is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a graduate course for 3 graduate credits (from George Mason University). Applications may be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV, and a Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 350 words). You’ll be asked to attach these with your application. If you are a George Mason University graduate student, you will also need to submit (by email to a letter from your Graduate Advisor specifying their approval for you to enroll in this course.

For first consideration, apply before August 7, 2017

Course Costs

The total cost for this course is $3,221 for Virginia residents and $4,126.25 for out-of-state students. This cost includes our Housing and Dining Package ($825.50) and covers:

  • Tuition for 3 credits through George Mason University
  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual, and other course materials
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off. Participants should plan to arrive to Dulles International Airport (IAD). Shuttle pick-up date at Dulles Airport will be Sunday, October 15, and the time will be 4:30pm (16:30h). Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before (October 14) and book into overnight accommodation in the Dulles-Washington, DC vicinity, so they can meet this Sunday afternoon shuttle. Otherwise a taxi can be privately arranged by participant for approximately $125. Our drop-off shuttle departs from SMSC (to IAD) on Saturday October 28th at 8am.
  • Transportation for course activities.
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost).

Payment Deadline: August 21, 2017


With course coordinator’s written approval in advance of registration/payment, local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.

For more information