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Geo Week: Geography and Communications, GIS for Wildlife Ecology

Geography Awareness WeekRecognizing that young Americans have a gap in their understanding of geography and their roles as global citizens, National Geographic “created Geography Awareness Week to raise awareness to this dangerous deficiency in American education and excite people about geography as both a discipline and as a part of everyday life… Each third week of November, students, families, and community members focus on the importance of geography by hosting events; using lessons, games, and challenges in the classroom; and often meet with policymakers and business leaders.” 

 To celebrate Geography Awareness Week, Falvey Memorial Library and the Department of Geography and the Environment (GEV) invite you to attend this week’s geography-focused events, to check out our list of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) projects below, and to follow along with Falvey’s blogs sharing projects and discussions from GEV’s students. 

GIS Projects 

Today we talk about the links between geography and communications as well as GIS for wildlife ecology.



Geography & Communications, Closer Than They Appear


Geography and communications—at first glance, the two fields seem unrelated. However, since beginning my Communications internship at the nonprofit EcoAgriculture Partners, I realized that these two fields are involved in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Working in communications necessitates understanding the audience’s needs and wants. Consequently, geography plays an integral role in understanding the motivations of your audience. As a communicator, I must consider the location of our global partners and stakeholders. Factoring in global audiences requires an inclusive communication strategy. For instance, even something as simple as providing multiple time zones for an event helps supporters better understand our intent and the information we are providing.

Though I do not directly utilize technical geography or GIS skills in my job, my background in these areas translates well into the responsibilities needed for my current position. Spending my junior and senior years at Villanova learning how to design the perfect map blossomed into a passion for designing communicable graphics. The storytelling skills I built in my geography classes and through the creation of StoryMaps gave me the confidence to write compelling stories about the global work EcoAgriculture does. My geography and GIS classes laid the foundation for skills like attention to detail, creativity, and storytelling, all of which I use every day in my role.

In the course of my internship, I plan to utilize my GIS abilities through developing StoryMaps and maps to communicate the results of future field research projects. I am excited to tell these stories by combining old and new skills. At present, I am working on a long-term project of documenting the history of our organization, which will hopefully allow me the opportunity to illustrate a larger geographical picture of the work EcoAgriculture Partners has done for over two decades.

Geography and GIS, while appearing as specifications, are valuable to a plethora of fields. I am so grateful I took advantage of the opportunity to study these areas in-depth while at Villanova which allowed me to take away such beneficial skills. As a grateful alum, I’m wishing everyone a Happy Geography Awareness Week & GIS Day!


Delaina Castillo is a Villanova GEV undergraduate alum from 2021. She majored in Environmental Studies and Art History.



GIS for Wildlife Ecology

Geography has been a key component of my ecological research, allowing me to analyze data and visualize trends in new ways. In the summer of 2020, I lived at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge studying species distribution of large mammals living there. I used data from a long-standing camera trap network to analyze how species such as mule deer, elk, oryx, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions are spread across the refuge and use the available water sources. Geography and GIS made my participation in this project possible and allowed me to perform some cool analyses.


The first question I asked was if water visitation varied spatially or temporally based on average precipitation or temperature. To do this, I used the GPS location of all of the camera traps and collected precipitation and temperature data from LANDSAT. With this, I was able to study how different species reacted differently to their environment. All species reacted pretty similarly to precipitation—all visiting perennial water sources more frequently in drier weather. When looking at temperature, however, the different species reacted in the distinct patterns; bobcats, elk, and mule deer all used perennial water sources more at higher temperatures. Coyotes and pumas utilized perennial water sources at similar levels across all temperatures—which makes sense as they gain a lot of their water from predation. Oryx showed distinct peaks at each extreme temperature—likely resulting from their adaptations to extreme aridity from evolving in arid regions of Africa.


My final research question was asking what habitat characteristics determined optimal habitat for large mammals on the refuge. For this, I modeled optimal habitat for mountain lions based on methods from previous papers. Using land cover, slope, and ruggedness layers, I was able to create a model for suitable mountain lion habitat. I then compared this model to the camera trap dataset and the sites modeled as good habitat had noticeably more mountain lion occurrences. Finally, I paired the camera trap dataset with fieldwork hiking over the refuge and taking GPS coordinates for tracks and scat of large mammals to carry out a Maxent analysis of species distribution. Geographical analysis enabled me to study ecology on a larger scale, giving me tools to research population-wide trends. Most of the research methods I used for this were methods I learned in my coursework at Villanova, during multiple GIS and remote sensing classes. Geography has given me a research skillset distinct from pure ecologists and biologists—leading to some really cool opportunities like this!







Alec Henderson is a senior at Villanova. He is majoring in Environmental Science.



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Last Modified: November 17, 2021

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