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Introducing the GIS Unit

Justin Moat
3 January 2012
Blog team: 
Find out more about the GIS Unit at Kew from Justin Moat.

Welcome to the first entry of the GIS team blog. We’re really excited to tell you about all the projects we are working on around the world. In this blog we will share more about our work, which ranges from species distribution maps to detailed vegetation surveys and classifications of entire countries and everything between. We’ll tell you about our experiments with new tools and techniques such as ways to automate the process of Red Listing i.e. assessing how endangered specific plant species are or how we use mobile devices to capture data in the field. We like gadgets too, so expect the occasional review of the latest equipment being used in the GIS Unit.

First, we should introduce ourselves:

Vegetation mapping, going from satellite imagery to classified map (right to left). Also shows species distribubtion (black dots) and some conservation analysis (lines).

What we do 

The GIS Unit deals with all things spatial. Plants and geography have always been closely linked and never more so in this ‘geospatial’ era where location data is everywhere. We generally split our work into main two areas: species and vegetation, although there is a lot of overlap.

Species level work:
By spatially referencing where plants are i.e. by assigning a latitude and longitude co-ordinate pair, we provide a basis for furthering our understanding. With this data we can produce a distribution map for different plant species - these often appear in scientific papers along with the description of a species when it is new to science. We can also compare the location of a plant with environmental layers such as climate, soil, geology etc. to help tell us what might be influencing the distribution of that plant. We also use GIS as a tool to help us understand how threatened a species may be i.e. how close to extinction it is. We have also developed some tools to make that process easier and quicker (see GeoCAT). On a more advanced level we can model where a plant may occur and even how it might be distributed in future climates.

Vegetation and habitat level work:
Here we are mostly dealing with characterising and quantifying the worlds vegetation. This is done in the main with remote sensing; where we are using aerial photo and state of the art satellite imagery to detect and classify the earth vegetation. With satellite imagery we can view the planets surface in a completely different way, we can use radar or lasers to feel the texture of the earth, we can also use light that is not visible to humans, to distinguish what is on the ground (infra-red is one of the best for differentiating vegetation). We can also use modeling techniques to model the vegetation often again thought time (past and future). Find out more about our vegetation and habitat level work.

Get connected with the GIS Unit

  • We like to tweet about what we do. You can follow us here @KewGIS
  • We are occasionally allowed out of the office and we use Flickr to post up our fieldwork photos. You can also find some examples of the work we do. Have a look at the photostream here GIS Unit Kew
  • If you have any questions or are interested in working with us, you can always drop us an email



Coming soon...

We are busy working on the new GIS Unit website, the old one is more than a little out of date. We hope it is useful.

We are looking forward to another exciting year of GIS and plant conservation. See you in 2012 - happy mapping.

- Justin and the GIS team -


6 January 2012
it was interesting to dig up more information related to the spread of vegetation types in the world which in turn is mapped according to its spread. Am very aware that this work is certainly very difficult, that is way, I would like to congratulate the hard work of KEW GIS TEAM ..! kinds, Reinardus Cabuy Forestry Faculty, Papua State University
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