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Using GPS in Your Bioblitz

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Publication Number: P2903
View as PDF: P2903.pdf
Bioblitz participants learning about mammals of Mississippi. Photo by Brady Self.

Although the concept of the bioblitz is relatively new to Mississippi, it is well established in other states. A bioblitz is an event designed to measure and demonstrate local biodiversity in a geographically predetermined area (for example, a park or campus). Biodiversity is an ecological term that encompasses all the different kinds of living organisms of an area. Biodiversity is important because every species—large and small, plant or animal—plays a role in the productivity of the system of life. Greater species diversity helps ensure sustained life. For example, a greater number of native insect species can equal a greater variety of beneficial insects that can reduce populations of harmful native and nonnative insects.

In addition to species diversity, biodiversity encompasses a diversity of habitats and ecosystems as well as genetics (also known as genetic variation) within any given species. Invasive species, such as kudzu, harm biodiversity because they aggressively take over ecosystems, pushing native species from their preferred habitat, decreasing both species and genetic diversity. Healthy habitats support many different species.

Bioblitz efforts provide an excellent opportunity to not only measure local biodiversity, but to increase the ecological knowledge of participants in the process. During the course of a bioblitz, participants work with taxonomic specialists to find and identify as many living species as possible during a 12- or 24-hour period. The event typically takes place in an easily accessed public area such as a park, school ground, or similar open natural area that provides habitat for organisms. During the specialist-led walks, participants learn about a variety of different taxonomic groups (e.g., herbaceous plants, trees, mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and birds). They also learn about the importance of biodiversity and benefit from spending time outdoors. For more information on organizing a bioblitz or about the concept in general, please consult MSU Extension Publication 2887 What Is a Bioblitz?


What Is GPS?

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology can be a very useful tool in determining and recording species locations during bioblitz events. GPS is a government-owned and -maintained space-based navigation system that uses satellites to provide location anywhere on the surface of the earth. Private individuals are allowed to receive signals from this satellite system free of charge using their own receiver units. These units range from inexpensive and moderately accurate to very expensive with the ability to record exact locations to the fraction of an inch.

Both satellites and receiver units work off of time differential. Satellites carry synchronized atomic clocks that transmit a location signal to user-owned receivers. The receiver monitors multiple satellites and determines the exact location of the unit using the time of transmission of the signal from the transmitting satellite. This time difference is used to calculate a precise location in the user’s selected referencing system for location (typically latitude, longitude, and altitude).


Using GPS in a Bioblitz

While public involvement and increasing participant knowledge is vital to the bioblitz concept, a detailed species inventory is crucial to many agencies and/or associations responsible for hosting the overall event. Bioblitz hosts often have a specified need for a comprehensive listing of species observed and identified during the course of the bioblitz. This inventory can be used to maintain current management efforts for indigenous or invasive species, or it may inform officials of the presence of a species previously not known to exist within the boundaries of the bioblitz. Subsequently, the exact location of identified species may be an integral part of data collected during the bioblitz and offers clues about species’ habitats. GPS provides an excellent and easily implemented tool for location determination.

Determined specimen locations should be recorded on species tally cards. A tally card is simply a piece of paper used to record species identified throughout the bioblitz. Tally cards for scientists should include start time, end time, habitats visited, number of participants in group, species common name, species scientific name, and location of the identified specimen. Recorded locations should also be stored in the GPS receiver for backup and can be uploaded into computer mapping software in the event that mapping is desired. Finally, locations can be recorded and stored in i-Naturalist (, a social networking smartphone application and website that incorporates GPS. i-Naturalist is a great way to learn about biodiversity across the earth.

Regardless of the tool, the GPS location is recorded through a process known as marking “waypoints.” Waypoints are simply recorded geo-coordinates used to “mark” a specific location. We detail the procedure below. This information was written using the Garmin® eTrex 10 as a model. While the exact step-by-step procedure for your unit may differ, most current handheld GPS units are similar, and the process should be similar.


Recording Waypoints

The power on button is usually on the side of the device. Sometimes it is labeled light. Press the light button to change screen visibility. Press back to return to a previous screen. From the main menu screen, toggle to the satellite icon and press enter (press straight down on the toggle button). Before proceeding, make sure your GPS receiver is receiving a signal from at least three satellites.


Marking Current Waypoint

From the menu screen, select mark waypoint. Once in the waypoint screen, the GPS uses a default name for the waypoint. You can either record the waypoint using the default name or give it a specific name of your choosing. Note the GPS coordinates in the location window. Toggle to done and press enter to save the waypoint.

Managing Waypoints

As you record waypoints using GPS, you will eventually want to review or delete waypoints you have created. Both functions are easy to perform in Waypoint Manager. Use Waypoint Manager to view waypoints. From the menu screen, toggle to Waypoint Manager. By default, the most recently created waypoint is at the top. Note the time and date created. Marking symbol, name, coordinates, and notes can be modified by toggling to the respective window to highlight, pressing enter to initiate the keyboard, and toggling to letters and numbers on the keyboard. After selecting a letter/number, press enter. Because this is a laborious process, we suggest editing in the office instead of the field whenever possible. To delete a waypoint, select the waypoint, press menu, select delete, and then select yes. To delete all waypoints, in Waypoint Manager, select menu, then select delete all.

Navigating to a Waypoint

If you need to go back to a recorded waypoint, use the following steps. From the menu screen, toggle to where to and enter. Select waypoints. Select specific waypoint. Note distance from current location and direction. Select go. At this point, you can either follow the directional arrow on the map screen, or you can use the compass function in your GPS unit.

Start with an aerial image (e.g., Google Maps) of the general area. Navigate to within a reasonable walking distance of the known location of the destination. At this point, use the GPS device to walk within 30 feet of the destination. Modern handheld units can usually navigate to within 30 feet, where error in the GPS system begins to limit accuracy.

Additional Reading

Jason Gordon and Brady Self. 2015. What is a Bioblitz? Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication 2887.


The information given here is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products, trade names, or suppliers are made with the understanding that no endorsement is implied and that no discrimination against other products or suppliers is intended.

Publication 2903 (POD-07-18)

By A. Brady Self, Assistant Extension Professor, Jason Gordon, Assistant Extension Professor, and John Kushla, Associate Extension Professor, Forestry.

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Portrait of Dr. Brady Self
Associate Extension Professor
Hardwood Silviculture Forest Herbicides
Portrait of Dr. John Kushla
Extension/Research Professor
Agroforestry, Christmas trees, GIS, forest soils, pine silviculture