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Central Michigan University students showcased their mastery of geographic information systems at a statewide student paper and poster competition held Jan. 24 at Schoolcraft College in Livonia. GIS is used, among other things, for scientific investigations, resource management and development planning. Taking first and second place, respectively, in the graduate student competitions were Maxwell Field and Heather Stricker.

The competition was sponsored by Improving Michigan’s Access to Geographic Information Networks. IMAGIN is a nonprofit professional networking organization founded in 1993 to provide professional networking opportunities for its members and to promote GIS use in Michigan.

Field won top honors for a study of "Common Loon Habitat Modeling in Northern Lower Michigan." Field presented additional research for an audience at the IMAGIN Annual Conference in Dearborn in early May. "I am building a habitat model for common loons based on features of inland lakes," said Field. The model will be used to make predictions about the presence or absence of loons and their nesting habits in Michigan lakes. "The final product can hopefully be used as a management tool to help identify and protect common loon habitat in Michigan or other Great Lakes states with a diminishing loon population," he said.

Field’s analysis also showed that human shoreline development and watercraft activity do not negatively affect loon presence. He explained this data by noting that loons and humans are most likely to live on inland lakes that are larger and deeper. Field said management strategies can be utilized to foster healthy coexistence between loons and humans.

Stricker’s research looked at the future of wolf habitat in Montmorency County in the northern Lower Peninsula. Human population growth has been shown to inhibit the presence and growth of wolves in areas of development. Montmorency County may lose up to 23 percent of suitable wolf habitat by the year 2050. "A predictive model that forecasts available wolf habitats for decades will allow managers to make sound long-term conservation decisions that have ecological reasoning and scientific support," said Stricker.

The top three undergraduate winners in the poster competition, in order of placement, were CMU students Erika Espeland, Joe Polmerville and Ken Robertson. Eight posters were submitted by students from Michigan colleges.

Espeland presented a poster on 3-D mapping of a cloud forest (a forest that contains a fog layer at tree level) in Peru, Polmerville identified the most suitable habitat for the Florida panther, and Robertson looked at African-American migration in the United States.

Dr. Bin Li, chairman of the Department of Geography at CMU, explained why students at the university performed so well: "The university identified GIS as an area to invest in about 10 years ago. The program is designed very well and has the largest number of GIS faculty in the state. Another reason is the close collaboration of GIS with other scientific disciplines at the school, such as biology and ecology."