An Introduction to GIS for Biologists (University of Glasgow Level 3)

This page provides links to all the videos and other information required to complete the session titled An Introduction to GIS for Biologists (University of Glasgow Level 3) held on the 2nd of December 2020. For more information contact cdmacleod@GISinEcology.

In this session, you will learn what GIS is, how it is used in biology, how to create your first map, how to collect GIS compatible data in the field using a GPS receiver and how to create a second map from data that have been collected in the field.

It is divided into four sections: 1. An introduction to the GIS software (including downloading and installing it); 2. What is GIS?; 3. Practical Exercise One – How to make your first map; 4. Practical Exercise Two – How to collect GIS compatible data and add it to a GIS project.

1. An Introduction to the GIS Software

For this session, you will be using a GIS software packages called QGIS. You will need to download and install a specific version of it (2.8.3 for Windows users and 2.8.4 for Mac users) in order to be able to follow the instructions provided for the practical exercises.This should be done before your attend the first session. Please only download it from the links provided below and not from any other source.

If you are using a Windows computer, click here to download the 64 bit version of QGIS 2.8.3, or here to download the 32 bit version of QGIS 2.8.3. If in doubt as to which version to install, try the 64 bit version first, and only if this does not work on your computer, try the 32 bit version. The video below will help you download and install QGIS on a Windows computer:

To install QGIS on a computer running a Mac OS, download a compressed file containing the QGIS .dmg file for version 2.8.4 clicking here. Once you have downloaded it, open the folder and install the .dmg file called QGIS-2.8.4-1.dmg.NOTE:You will probably need to change the security settings on your computer to allow you to install software from an unauthorised source before you can install QGIS. If you run into any problems,this videomay help (this is not aGIS In Ecologyvideo). The other .dmg files provided in this compressed folder are optional, but it is worth installing them too, after you have installed QGIS. If you choose to install these files, install them in the following order: NumPy-1.8.0-1.dmg, NumPy-1.9.2-1.dmg, SciPy-0.13.1-1.dmg, SciPy-0.16.0-1.dmg.

***NOTE: Once you have installed QGIS, you will need to install and activate a number of plugins. While instructions are provided in the book to do this, as of August 2020, these instructions will not work due to a change in the web address for the Official QGIS Plugin Repository. In order to be able to install these plugins, you will now need to follow a new set of instructions. These are provided in aPDF called Installing Required QGIS Plugins in QGIS 2.8. This PDF can be downloaded by clicking here.***

Once you have installed QGIS, you should watch the vidoe below to familiarise yourself with its layout and to to set it up in the standard format which will be assumed for the written instructions provided for this session:

2. What is GIS?

The first video in this section is an introductory talk for this session. This talk will be given live during the session, but a recorded verrsion is provided here so you can watch it back later. As this was recorded in advance it may be slightly different to the live talk you listened to on the day.

Once you have listened to the introductory talk, you should watch the video below which provides an introduction to what projections are and why they are important to understand when using GIS. This is a really important topic as most of the problems biologists have with using GIS are related to problems with projections. Once you have watched this video, you can move on to Practical Exercise One (see below).


3. Practical Exercise One – How To Make Your First Map

In this section, you will learn how to make a simple map using GIS software. To do this, watch the video below and then start working through the written instructions for this exercise provided in the course manual. If you are completing this during the live session, you can ask for help if you run into any problems.

4. Practical Exercise Two – How To Collect GIS Compatible Data And Add It To A GIS Project

In this section, you will learn how to collect data in the field using a GPS reciever or a GPS app on a smart phone and add it to a GIS project. You will work through this session on your own. This will help you gain more experience in using GIS. To do this, first watch this introductory video:

Next, watch this video about collecting data on the locations of nest boxes in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. This video provides you with the locations of five nest boxes that you will enter into a spreadsheet and add into your GIS project as part of Practical Exercise Two in this session. This means you need to watch this video and write these locations down in the table provided in your course manual before you can proceed with this practical exercise.

Once you have watch the above video and written down the locations of the five nest boxes in the table in your course manual, you can proceed with Practical Exercise Two. This can be done by following the written instructions for thie exercise provided in your course manual. Note: If you have problems with the OpenLayers Plugin during this exercise, please follow the instructions in this PDF: Installing Required QGIS Plugins in QGIS 2.8.

If, once you have finished this exercise, you wish to try collecting data on the nest box locations for yourself, you will need to first download a GPS app for your smart phone and then set it up properly. Information on how you can do this for an Android phone can be found in the videos below. iPhones can be set up in a simlar manner, but you will need to use a different app. Suitable GPS apps for iPhones can be foudn in the Apple App Store.

Additional Resources

If you wish to learn more about how to use GIS in biological research, you can find our page of free video tips at

Alternatively, you can purchase the book GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduatesby Dr Colin D. MacLeod. Note: The first exercise in this session is taken directly from this book.