When the SKCDC receives observation data, it must be interpreted spatially in order to be mapped in the GIS application part of the database. Each observation requires careful evaluation in order to represent it in an accurate and useful manner, and to determine if it is a new site, or a revisit of an existing/known site. Observations may be grouped and mapped to become Source Features (SF), which are further grouped into Element Occurrences (EO).
Accurate representation of the location of an observation is very important. First, revisits to monitor changes in population are reliant on being able to find the original observation location, and to determine if any changes to the size or distribution have taken place. Second, modelling programs that make use of spatial data need accurate information to make the best predictions. Finally, these locations inform conservation practices (e.g. setback distances, activity scheduling), and the better the representation, the more efficient the application of conservation measures.
The information that is submitted with each observation determines the precision and level of detail with which it can be mapped. Locational data may vary based on the observer, survey technique, equipment, and type of data collected, leading to different spatial representations. Observations can be mapped as points (e.g. small area), lines (e.g. along a transect or linear land feature), or polygons (e.g. as a patch or occupied habitat area). A mapped observation should will capture both the occupied territory as well as any uncertainty associated with the location. Many observations have an associated error or uncertainty between the represented or recorded location and the actual location, and this is captured in the mapping process by including a locational uncertainty buffer. For example, most GPS units operate with an error of up to +/- 5m even under optimum conditions. A waypoint may be given a 5m uncertainty buffer when it is mapped, making it appear as a circular polygon with a 5m radius. Mapped observations should also exclude areas known not to be occupied.
The level of detail that is included in the mapped observation is also determined by its usefulness and functionality. A common limiting factor is the scale of the map, which necessitates a minimum distance between observations in order to map them separately. For example, if two observations are submitted as separate waypoints but are only 3m apart on the ground, they may be grouped together into one observation if the scale of the map is such that observations less than 5m apart can’t be separated. Similarly, if multiple waypoints are submitted denoting the location of individual plants within a 10m radius, but most plants are less than 5m apart, they may be mapped as a patch, using the outer waypoints as a boundary, and appear as a polygon on the map rather than individual points. The SKCDC is currently working on developing guidelines for the recommended level of detail to record during data collection in order to produce the most useful spatial data and to facilitate quicker processing time of data by the SKCDC.
Once mapped, observations are called Source Features (SF), and they require further processing by being added to or creating a new Element Occurrence (EO). An EO is a relatively spatially stable, practical conservation unit for a species or community on the landscape, and as such is governed by standardized rules set out by NatureServe. There are separate specifications for both plants and animals that define when a SF is grouped into an existing EO and when it should constitute the creation of a separate EO. These specifications take into account things like dispersal, home range, connected habitat, and barriers to movement of individuals or genes.
HABISask (Hunting, Angling and Biodiversity Information of Saskatchewan, formerly the Wildlife App/Project Review Website) is a mapping application that presents information on EOs to the user. HABISask uses data from the central SKCDC database and displays it in the Rare and Endangered Species map layer. Mapping observations is a somewhat complex process that requires dedicated time and effort to complete. The SKCDC strives for timely data input, but this is often confounded by widely variable locational data that requires careful consideration in order to be properly mapped. Your help in accurately mapping wildlife observations is appreciated.