InfoGraphics Lab explores the science of ungulate migration

Cartographers at the University of Oregon’s InfoGraphics Lab were a key partner on a new report on migrations of deer and elk that highlights the challenges the animals face and offers solutions and tools for conservation.

The goal of the report, done in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, is to provide the foundation for policy and management decisions at all levels of government that can best conserve migratory species and their movement corridors.

The report, “How to Conserve Wildlife Migrations in the West,” was a collaboration between the Wyoming Migration Initiative, a research collective at the University of Wyoming led by Matt Kauffman, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the UO’s InfoGraphics Lab. It draws heavily on existing and updated maps and data visualizations from “Wild Migrations: Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates,” a publication created by the Wyoming Migration Initiative and the UO in 2018.

Ungulates include deer, elk, caribou and antelope.

The use of maps and data visualizations in scientific publications and reports helps break down science in a digestible way for readers, lab members said. As cartographers, members of the InfoGraphics Lab bring research expertise to the process and translate spatial data.

One way they support research is to work closely with primary researchers to identify aspects or outcomes of the research that could be best communicated through maps or data visualizations.

“Ecologists are out in the field, gathering data and later analyzing that data to understand migratory patterns,” cartographic developer Joanna Merson said. “Where that becomes impactful is when that's communicated to the public, land managers and decision makers. One of our largest contributions is to help communicate the science to a broad audience, land managers and the public alike.”

Creating visual data for a complex scientific journal is different than visuals for reaching a more public-facing audience, such as The Pew Report, said cartographic project manager Alethea Steingisser.

“You might have to spend a lot more time trying to understand a figure in a scientific journal compared to one that is created for more public usage,” Steingisser said. “The maps and graphics that we create retain the robustness of the data while communicating quickly, clearly and effectively.”

The InfoGraphics Lab has collaborated with the Wyoming Migration Initiative since 2013, creating maps and graphics for a variety of efforts that include films, social media, journal publications, museum exhibits and more. According to Merson, that history has allowed the InforGraphics Lab to “act as the cartographic arm of the Wyoming Migration Initiative.”

Projects such as that allow the InfoGraphics Lab to support student learning and give hands-on experience to UO undergraduate and graduate students who assist with geographic information systems, cartography and design. Student cartographers Lucy Roberts and Ian Freeman both contributed to The Pew Report.

Students, faculty members and anyone in the community interested in the InfoGraphics Lab or learning more about geographic information science can attend the UO’s World GIS Day event Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Knight Library.

By McKenzie Days, College of Arts and Sciences