Biogeography photography exercise

Teresa Cohn, Montana State University
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Initial Publication Date: April 16, 2013


Students rephotograph historical landscape images from local archives, upload the matched images in Google Earth, and use the whole class's images to analyze environmental changes over the past century.

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Undergraduate biogeography students

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is situated toward the end of the semester, and serves as a means of applying fundamental concepts of biogeography to the local environment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

vegetation change, land use change, corridors and filters, dispersal and migration, conservation biogeography, species identification

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

analysis of ground and aerial rephotography pairs, formulation of hypotheses concerning landscape change, application of concepts learned through lecture and reading to a local landscape

Other skills goals for this activity

working in groups, developing .kmz files and use of Google Earth

Description and Teaching Materials

1) I collected a series of historical landscape photographs from local archives.

2) Students were divided into groups of four and given four to five photographs per group.

3) Students rephotographed the historical images, paired the rephotography pairs, uploaded them into Google Earth, developed them into .kmz files, wrote a description of the changes they observed in the photographs in their .kmz file, and returned the .kmz file to me. A group of remote sensing students georeferenced historical aerial imagery acquired from a local archive and USGS Earth Explorer.

4) I compiled the images into one .kmz file and loaded it onto lab computers for our week's biogeography lab.

5) Students analyzed the entire set of class photos and a) described both trends and anomalies in environmental change as evidenced in the photographs, and b) hypothesized reasons for changes.

Student Guidelines for Preparing Photos (Acrobat (PDF) 4.5MB Apr2 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students are evaluated on the successful completion of their portion of the project as well as their responses in the biogeography lab.

References and Resources