Mapping the Path to Conservation: How GIS Skills are Shaping the Future of Tufts University’s Conservation Medicine Program

Tufts University’s Master of Science in Conservation Medicine (MCM) program at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is revolutionizing the way students approach conservation challenges. While preparing veterinarians, physicians, ecologists, and conservation professionals to tackle urgent global issues, the program has incorporated a unique requirement: a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) course.

The MCM program, dedicated to addressing critical planetary issues such as habitat conservation, emerging diseases, biodiversity loss, and climate change, recognizes that these challenges are inherently spatial in nature. Carolyn Talmadge, Data Lab services manager and course director, believes that GIS and spatial analysis skills are essential for understanding the scope of these problems.

Initially, the program offered only workshops and guest lectures on GIS. However, Talmadge, a GIS specialist at Tufts, recognized the need for a comprehensive GIS course tailored to conservation medicine. In 2016, she introduced the semester-long “GIS for Conservation Medicine” course, which has since become one of the program’s most popular and highly-rated offerings.

Empowering Future Conservation Leaders

Talmadge’s teaching philosophy centers on inspiring students to see GIS as a powerful tool for solving real-world conservation problems. “My goal for the class is to first provide the motivation for learning GIS before teaching the skill itself,” she states, emphasizing that GIS can be both accessible and enjoyable. Under her guidance, students have found positions with prestigious organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, MIT, Harvard University, the World Bank Group, and the United Nations, among others.

Former colleague Madeline Wrable, now a solutions engineer for imagery and remote sensing at Esri, praised Talmadge’s dedication to her students’ success. Wrable attests that Talmadge “teaches GIS like someone who has found their passion in life” and offers unwavering support throughout their learning journeys.

Building a Comprehensive Curriculum

Recognizing that students in the MCM program possess varying levels of technical expertise, Talmadge tailors her course to cater to diverse backgrounds. She uses the One Health approach, emphasizing the interconnectedness of people, animals, plants, and the environment, to demonstrate the broad applications of GIS in environmental and public health.

Talmadge believes in making GIS accessible through hands-on activities that reinforce concepts learned in lectures. These activities cover various scales, addressing challenges from local neighborhoods to global issues. Using real-case scenarios and datasets, students engage in purposeful learning, understanding how GIS can be applied to their research and career interests.

Talmadge’s course also places a strong emphasis on cartography, design, and effective communication of spatial data. Students use tools like ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro to create high-quality maps, manage databases, and perform spatial analysis. One standout assignment involves collecting field data using ArcGIS Survey123, enabling students to explore topics like wildlife sightings and habitat degradation.

The culmination of the course is a GIS analysis project where students choose a topic and create informative posters. Many of these posters have garnered recognition at the Esri User Conference Map Gallery competition, further highlighting the practical skills acquired in the course.

Looking to the Future

Talmadge is continuously looking for ways to enhance her course and the integration of GIS in conservation efforts. She believes that incorporating GPS data collection and drone technologies will expand the application of GIS in conservation. As GIS becomes more integrated into the practice of conservation, it holds the promise of making the results of field studies accessible to the public and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.

In summary, Tufts University’s MCM program is not only shaping the future of conservation medicine but also nurturing a new generation of conservation leaders armed with GIS skills. Carolyn Talmadge’s dedication to inspiring and equipping her students with GIS expertise is creating a ripple effect in the field of conservation, where spatial analysis and data-driven decision-making are becoming increasingly indispensable. As GIS continues to evolve, so does the potential for innovative solutions to the pressing challenges our planet faces.

Global Agreement to Protect the Ocean Signed by 193 Nations

In a historic move, 193 nations came together in March 2023 to sign the United Nations (UN) High Seas Treaty, a landmark agreement that aims to protect the ocean and reverse biodiversity loss. The treaty, the first of its kind, establishes a framework for safeguarding the high seas, which make up two-thirds of the world’s ocean and fall beyond national boundaries and governance. The signing of this treaty signifies a growing recognition of the ocean’s importance and the need for its preservation.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the treaty as “crucial for addressing the triple threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.” It is a significant step toward tackling these global challenges and promoting sustainable development. The ocean plays a vital role in mitigating climate change by generating 50 percent of the world’s oxygen, absorbing 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and capturing 90 percent of excess heat caused by those emissions. Furthermore, it supports marine life and provides nearly 10 million tons of fish annually to feed a growing population.

Despite its immense value, the ocean remains largely unexplored and poorly understood. Until recently, only 6 percent of the Earth’s seafloor had been mapped to a comparable degree as the surface of the Earth, moon, or Mars. This lack of knowledge hampers efforts to protect marine ecosystems effectively. Approximately 91 percent of species in the ocean remain unclassified, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive research and conservation efforts.

The ocean faces numerous threats, including rising temperatures, pollution, overfishing, and seabed mining. Over the past 30 years, ocean temperatures have increased due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, leading to sea-level rise, coastal land loss, and coastal flooding. The acidification of the ocean caused by higher carbon dioxide levels adversely affects marine species and ecosystems. Pollution from debris, including microplastics and abandoned fishing gear, continues to plague the ocean. Unsustainable fishing practices and commercial mining of seabed minerals further endanger marine life and the health of the ocean.

Recognizing the escalating threats to the ocean and its crucial role in sustaining the Earth, the UN declared 2021 to 2030 the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade). This ambitious plan aims to develop a better understanding of marine ecosystems, inform policy decisions, and promote sustainable management of the ocean. Esri, a leading technology company, is actively involved in several Ocean Decade programs and initiatives.

Esri’s participation in the Seabed 2030 project, a global initiative to map the entire ocean floor by 2030, is helping to expand the area of mapped seabed. Through partnerships and collaborations, Esri promotes the collection of bathymetric data and shares solutions for ocean mapping and data management. The company is also part of the Digital Twins of the Ocean (DITTO) program, which aims to create 3D digital ocean models using AI and specialized tools for marine data analysis.

In addition, Esri is involved in the Deep Ocean Observing Strategy (DOOS), an international organization coordinating the observation, exploration, and modeling of the deep ocean. By providing clear and engaging data visualizations through GIS, Esri helps tell the data stories and facilitates collaboration among scientists and policymakers. Esri’s commitment to ocean science and environmental protection extends to its work with the UN and other organizations, building the geospatial infrastructure necessary for addressing global challenges.

With its active involvement in various Ocean Decade programs, Esri demonstrates its dedication to scientific research, preservation of the ocean, and promoting sustainable practices. Through partnerships, technological advancements, and data-driven solutions, Esri continues to contribute to the understanding and protection of the ocean, ensuring a healthier

Harnessing GIS for Transparent Rental Housing in Beirut

The Beirut Urban Lab, a university research lab in Lebanon, has created an online platform called the City of Tenants to address the lack of transparency in the rental housing market in Beirut. The platform utilizes GIS technology to map rental information contributed by tenants, providing access to data on rent prices and neighborhood characteristics. The database, called the Beirut Built Environment, includes detailed information about the city’s infrastructure.

Through ArcGIS Survey123 and ArcGIS Experience Builder, tenants can anonymously contribute data on rental conditions, such as occupancy status and housing costs. The collected data is used by researchers and policymakers to understand urban trends and develop responsive public policies. The platform aims to empower tenants by providing them with readily available rental market data, helping them make informed decisions and negotiate more effectively. The Beirut Urban Lab plans to expand the platform to other cities in Lebanon and automate data updates through ArcGIS Survey123.


A new era in publishing is on the horizon with the launch of GPT-4, the most advanced AI system created by OpenAI. This revolutionary technology is expected to transform various aspects of society, including academic publishing. However, the integration of AI in manuscript preparation and peer review raises ethical concerns that need to be addressed.

In academic publishing, peer review is a crucial process that ensures the quality and credibility of published work. With the advent of AI, the peer review process could become faster and less laborious, but it also raises concerns about the potential for identical reviews and the lack of field-specific critical input. To address this, journals could potentially ask reviewers to declare the extent to which AI generated the review.

The implications of AI for authors and academic institutions are also significant. The availability of software to create figures and text could make manuscript preparation faster and less labor-intensive, but it also raises questions of originality and ownership of creative work generated by AI. It is crucial for authors to remain vigilant and take steps to mitigate any potential bias. Transparency is key to addressing these issues, and it is essential to declare the involvement of AI in manuscript preparation.

The integration of AI-powered image analysis could enhance the process of assessing whether a submitted article is original, while also making the identification of suitable reviewers faster and more effective. These additional features would be a boon to busy academics who serve on editorial boards.

In conclusion, the advent of AI in publishing is a game-changer, but it needs to be balanced with ethical and transparent use. Editorial boards will need to make rapid decisions on how best to respond to ensure they act responsibly for authors, reviewers, and readers. The future of academic publishing is bright, but it will require careful consideration of the implications of AI for all stakeholders.