Habitat Mapping &

Environmental Characterization


Conservation planning, resources management, and scientific monitoring and assessment are among the many applications that require spatially-explicit data about the environment. These data are often combined with spatial analytical techniques to produce marine habitat maps. Marine habitat maps have rapidly become invaluable tools to effectively represent the environment and species distribution and to facilitate communication among different stakeholders. The ever-increasing quantity and quality of spatial data available to characterize the marine environment, the emerging technologies to collect these data and the newly developed techniques to produce habitat maps generate many opportunities for research. In 0ur lab, we work towards improving habitat mapping methods by better understanding the link between spatial data representations of the environment and the actual ecological patterns and processes occurring in the environment. We also work with partners that are interested in particular species and apply habitat mapping methods to estimate these species distributions.

Additional keywords: habitat modeling, landscape ecology, underwater image analysis, citizen science

Ongoing Projects
  • High-resolution mapping and quantitative characterization of subtidal oyster reefs

  • Marine archaeological investigation and habitat mapping of the Paleo-Suwannee River, Eastern Gulf of Mexico

  • Evaluating the impacts of spatial data characteristics on the habitat mapping workflow and its applications

  • Improving scientific understanding of thematic and spatial scales in the study of marine benthic habitats

  • Fine-scale habitat characterization of cold-water corals and sponges in Canada

  • Influence of environmental factors on the small-scale fishery of the Brazilian Amazon floodplain

Current Collaborators
  • Dr. Victoria I. Nahum, Laboratόrio de Biologia Pesqueira e Manejo de Recursos Aquáticos, Universidade Federal do Parà, Brazil

  • Dr. Edward Camp, University of Florida, USA

  • Dr. Ben Misiuk, Dalhousie University, Canada

  • Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France

  • Dr. Evan Edinger, Memorial University, Canada

  • Dr. Craig Brown, Dalhousie University, Canada

  • Dr. Vanessa Lucieer, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia

  • Dr. Marie-Josée Fortin, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Canada

Sample Publications
  1. Lecours V: On the use of maps and models in conservation and resource management (warning: results may vary). Frontiers in Marine Science, 4:288, 1-18, 2017.

  2. Lecours V, Brown CJ, Devillers R, Lucieer VL & Edinger EN: Comparing selections of environmental variables for ecological studies: a focus on terrain attributes. PLoS ONE, 11: e0167128, 2016.

  3. Lecours V, Devillers R, Schneider DC, Lucieer VL, Brown CJ & Edinger EN: Spatial scale and geographic context in benthic habitat mapping: review and future directions. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 535: 259-284, 2015.

Relevant Organization



Geomorphometry is the science used to quantitatively describe the shape of the terrain, for instance when characterizing and identifying areas of high slopes or delineating crests, troughs and flat areas. Geomorphometry is often used in disciplines like habitat mapping (many species prefer to live in areas presenting particular topographic characteristics), in geomorphology, in hydrodynamics modeling, and in underwater archeology.  While the science of geomorphometry is well established, some issues arise when it is applied to particular contexts. Our work aims at addressing these issues and bridging the end-user community with the theories and methods developed by the geomorphometry community.

Additional keywords: fractal/multi-fractals, geomorphometric classification schemes, geomorphometry for artifacts detection

Ongoing Projects
  • High-resolution mapping and quantitative characterization of subtidal oyster reefs

  • Comparing techniques for multiscale terrain attributes generation

  • Evaluating the scale dependency of terrain attributes in species distribution modeling

  • Evaluating techniques for multiscale terrain attribute derivation

Past Projects
  • Modeling at multiple scales to predict the distribution of sediment grain size for use in habitat mapping (PI: B. Misiuk)

  • Deriving topographic indices from bare-earth DEMs to improve the accuracy of ecological models (PI: V. Moudrý & V. Lecours)

Current Collaborators
Sample Publications
  1. Lecours V, Devillers R, Simms AE, Lucieer VL & Brown CJ: Towards a framework for terrain attribute selection in environmental studies. Environmental Modelling and Software, 89: 19-30, 2017.

  2. Lecours V, Dolan MFJ, Micallef A & Lucieer VL: A review of marine geomorphometry, the quantitative study of the seafloor. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 20: 3207-3244, 2016.

Relevant Organization

Spatial Data Quality


Spatial data quality has always been an important topic in the geospatial literature. However, it has been argued that the attempts to raise end-users' awareness in fields like ecology and environmental modeling have often failed. Despite repeated calls for the appropriate consideration of error and uncertainty in environmental modeling and mapping, these concepts have yet to be better implemented, especially in a marine context. In our lab, we explore some of the issues associated with  the quality of multibeam bathymetric data, in addition to issues of positional accuracy associated with collecting spatial data underwater using remotely operated vehicles. Future work will translate this knowledge into user-friendly tools to facilitate the integration of data quality assessment into mapping and modeling.

Additional keywords: data quality in multi-platform surveys, scaling practices, object-based image analysis

Ongoing Projects
  • Evaluating the impacts of artifacts in digital terrain models (DTMs) on environmental analyses at multiple scales

  • Using fuzziness as a measure of uncertainty in classifications

  • Describing the trade-offs between accuracy and ecological realism in species distribution modeling

Current Collaborators
  • Dr. Ben Misiuk, Dalhousie University, Canada

  • Dr. Dario Fiorentino, Alfred-Wegener Institute - Hemholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, Germany

Sample Publications
  1. Lecours V, Devillers R, Edinger EN, Brown CJ & Lucieer VL: Influence of artefacts in marine digital terrain models on habitat maps and species distribution models: a multiscale assessment. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, doi:10.1002/rse2.49.

  2. Lecours V, Devillers R, Lucieer VL & Brown CJ: Artefacts in marine digital terrain models: a multiscale analysis of their impact on the derivation of terrain attributes. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 55(9): 1-16, 2017.

  3. Lecours V & Devillers R: Assessing the spatial data quality paradox in the deep-sea. In: Sieber R (ed.): Proceedings of Spatial Knowledge and Information - Canada (SKI-Canada) 2015, p. 1-8, 2015.




Our lab promotes collaborative research, which creates many opportunities to get out of our main research topics to explore new problems and encourage cross-disciplinary research. One of the key goals through many of these other initiatives is to increase geographic literacy in research and applications. 

  • Developing a standardized framework for data integration and distribution on the West Florida Shelf

  • Development of a webGIS tool to visualize and analyze statistics related to UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension

  • Increasing awareness and assessing perceptions of acoustic remote sensing in the broader Earth Observation community

  • Analyzing perceptions and uses of spatial theories in a multiparadigmatic geomatics

  • Making citizen science matter: developing protocols to address questions of marine citizenship

  • Using remote sensing techniques at a micro-scale