MCCS 0500: 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



Future dates for this course have not been confirmed.


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA

Application Procedure

We are not currently accepting applications for this course. Check back here for updates.

Course Costs

Payment Deadline:

The total cost for this course is $2,925.50 (Course fee of $2100 + Housing and Dining Package of $825.50).  Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $1200, making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $2,025.50 Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • 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).
  • 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).


Scholarships are available on a competitive basis for eligible international applicants. Click HERE for more information on scholarships.


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