Cape Town – The South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON) in partnership with the FBIP last week successfully hosted a two-day workshop with a focus on “Data Manipulation and Visualisation in R for Ecologists” at  St. Ives Lodge and Venue in Lion Rivers in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Human capital development is crucial to the field of ‘foundational biodiversity’ and South African students need to be skilled to conduct research in an era of big data, cognitive computing and the internet of things.

The funding of this workshop by the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) forms part of its strategic objectives to “develop and up skill people to ensure appropriate capacity for biodiversity knowledge generation, dissemination and application”.

SAEON Science Engagement and Graduate Student Network (GSN) Coordinator, Kogie Govender, says that through the R workshop, students acquired a range of skills such as statistical analysis, plotting data, data visualisation, and geospatial analysis using QGIS and R through the use of biodiversity datasets.

“After completing this course students are no longer intimidated by the prospect of using R to work with their own data as they now have the necessary background,” she said.

New skills

R is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing and graphics, while QGIS is a cross-platform desktop geographic information system (GIS) application that supports viewing, editing, and analysis of geospatial data – the combination of these tools (RQGIS) provides a powerful software architecture for biological data analysis and visualisation.

And best of all, both software packages are free, meaning that students do not have to pay for expensive licenses.

According to Govender several students have indicated that they’ve picked up a new skill not provided by their university, while others have said that the workshop is beneficial to them as they have acquired much needed skills to analyse their data.

The R workshop was facilitated by SAEON Data Scientist Dr Glenn Moncrieff who uses data and modelling to solve environmental problems – he enjoys sharing this knowledge with young scientists and is a strong advocate for ‘open science’ and reproducible research.

The QGIS workshop was facilitated by SAEON’s Scientific Programme Officer, Hayden Wilson who challenged the students to not only plot attractive images but to do geospatial analysis. Catlin Ransom, the science engagement intern was an assistant tutor that made sure that every student was on track.

The FBIP is funded by the Department of Science & innovation (DSI) under the Global Change Programme, and is jointly managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

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