Maps have come a long way. Once drawn by hand from field surveys, maps can now be generated from images taken from above and analyzed using powerful computers.
Geographic information systems or GIS emerged in the 1970s. GIS changed forever the way maps were created and analyzed. GIS is a tool that manages, analyzes, and models data from our environment so that we can make decisions based on that information to better study changes over time, conserve and restore important resources, and protect biodiversity into the future.
Scientists at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve map vital estuarine habitats, such as salt marshes and seagrass beds, to see how they are changing over time. They track vegetation cover and elevation changes, and they model what the future will look like with rising sea levels. They also monitor land use and terrestrial habitat types of importance in the watershed surrounding Elkhorn Slough.
Map by Charlie Endris
The map below is an example of the work our mapping team and partners can accomplish using the methods described. This Elkhorn Slough watershed enhanced lifeform and tidal wetland alliance level map is a 33-class land use and land cover and alliance level tidal wetland map of Elkhorn Slough watershed reflecting the state of the watershed in summer, 2018.
The Elkhorn Slough Reserve has pioneered the use of unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV, or “drone”) analyses of estuarine habitat change. Detailed maps have been generated of salt marsh habitats, including at Hester Marsh restoration, and of eelgrass beds. A recent publication details the use of this innovative approach.
Photo by Heather Hayashi
Reserve staff and volunteers have conducted years of field surveys to document the fate of threatened and endangered amphibians in the Elkhorn Slough watershed. Combining GIS mapping of wetlands and surrounding woodlands and grasslands with species presence, we can better understand where to protect existing habitat and promote conservation of new habitats.
Report on Amphibian Recovery Strategy for Northern Monterey County, 2019. Map by Charlie Endris.
Photo by Virginia Hayes