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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Student puts Stan State trees on the map

With its bright yellow foliage that signals the start of fall, the maidenhair tree might just be one of the most recognizable trees on Stanislaus State’s sprawling Turlock campus. It’s also the favorite tree of senior Germán Silva — a 21-year-old Geography major who is helping university staff, students and even community members better understand the school’s thousands of trees through an interactive map.

The tree map, which took Silva six months to complete, is a web diagram of the 228-acre campus that allows users to zoom in and out, move the map around and interact with features aimed to educate and inform about the school’s 3,543 trees and 102 different varieties.

“I think the interactive map is definitely my way of contributing back to my campus and leaving a little legacy of my own,” Silva said. “I am grateful to Stan State for everything it has done for me and this is my little way of giving back to the campus and hopefully benefitting students, staff, faculty, administration and the general public alike.”

Silva is also minoring in Environmental and Resource Studies and developed the map using geographic information systems technology as an intern in the Capital Planning and Facilities Management department, expanding and updating the work of previous Stanislaus State students who first began identifying and mapping campus trees in 2011.

Students had previously charted each tree on campus using GPS receivers, and Silva then took that information and uploaded it to an online web mapping platform. He also had to collect information and images for each tree, taking three pictures of every different variety on campus — the tree itself, the bark and leaves — and gathering an abundance of data for each, from the shape of the tree’s leaves to the texture and color of its bark.

The final map, posted on the Stanislaus State website, shows an aerial photo of the campus with each tree clearly marked. When users click on a tree, the information Silva painstakingly collected about each variety pops up.

So far, the electronic map is used regularly by facilities staff members, who take advantage of the accurate tree inventory to manage the campus landscape, and even students, like those studying botany who use the map to work on tree identification, specimen preparation and DNA barcoding projects.

Assistant professor of botany Andrew Gardner sees the map as an important tool that can help shape the future of the campus landscape. Tracking plant health with the map could illustrate the diversity of the species that thrive in Turlock’s climate and soil, providing an exciting teaching tool.

“A someone who is trying to teach other people about plants, having a campus with such tree diversity is great because we can just walk out and put our hands on them,” Gardner said.

Silva said that the map can also help students just passing by trees on their way to class, helping them become aware of the diversity of tree varieties on campus, and also hopes to see the community use the map as well.

“Community members often take walks around campus, and I think knowing about the different trees on campus can make them more enjoyable,” Silva said. “Additionally, if they see a tree they like, the tree profile provides some information on some of the growing requirements of the tree and community members can use that as a way to decide which trees to plant in their yards and gardens.”

After graduating in May with his bachelor’s degree, Silva plans on entering a career in coastal or forest management. The map project will likely serve as a key component in his portfolio of work, as it displays his knack for managing natural resources.

“It was a complicated project, but very rewarding when the final product was completed,” Silva said.

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