Getting Started

How Our Exercises Are Structured?

The exercises provided by GIS For Biologists are based around the in-person courses provided by GIS In Ecology, one of the world leaders in providing GIS training for biologists by biologists. This training uses real biological data sets to provide training in how to do specific tasks that biologists are likely to need to be able to do on a regular basis. By making these exercises available online at an easily affordable price (US$15 per exercise or $30 for all three exercises in our short course – this is in addition to purchasing the book on which these exercises are based), we hope to provide greater access to our training materials at a fraction of the prices of attending in-person courses (which are typically £295 per person for a two day course and £395 for a three day course) and without the associated travel and accommodation costs which are a barrier to many people, especially students and those working for NGOs, from attending. Through this, we hope to encourage more and more biologists to incorporate the power of GIS into their research.

Each exercise provides all the information needed to complete it, and consists of two parts. These are written instructions provided as easy-to-follow flow diagrams, which can be found in the accompanying book (GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates), and on-demand videos which provide background information on each exercise, an introduction to the data layers that will be used and a demonstration of how to do each step within the exercise. At least one video in each exercise is available for free, meaning that you can try out this video before you decide whether you’d like to subscribe to that exercise or not, while extracts from the book can be found here.

To purchase a subscription to the videos for the whole course, or to an individual exercise, simply click on the page link for one of the exercises (we recommend you start with exercise one), and then click on the first video. This will bring up the payment options which you can use to pay for the videos you wish to access.

Where To Purchase GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates

We advise that before you subscribe to the videos for any of our exercises that you first purchase a copy of GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates by Colin D. MacLeod (ISBN: 978-0-909-832-17-6). This can be purchased as a Kindle eBook or paperback, but we recommend that you purchase the paperback edition, as you will find it easier to follow the videos and complete the exercises if you have a hard copy of the book in front of you while you are working through it. You can purchase this book from Amazon, its regional subsidiaries, such as, or you an order it from any good book shop. If you are based in the US, you can also purchase a discounted copy from (Amazon’s print on demand publishing arm) using the code 6WVP6YMC.

An Introduction To Our Exercises And How To Complete Them

Each exercise provides all the information needed to complete it, and consists of two parts. These are written instructions provided as easy-to-follow flow diagrams, which can be found in the accompanying book GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates and the on-demand videos which you will find on this site. If, for some reason, you cannot see the video below or hear the sound when it plays, click here for an alternative method of accessing it.

Downloading And Installing The Correct Version Of QGIS

The exercises which you will find on GIS For Biologists are designed to be carried out using QGIS version 2.8.3 (or QGIS 2.8.4 if you are using a computer with a Mac OS operating system), and it is important that you download and install this version and not any other version. Don’t worry if you already have a different version of QGIS installed, you can have multiple versions of it installed on the same machine.

If you are using a Windows computer, click here to download the 64 bit version of QGIS 2.8.3, or here to download the 32 bit version of QGIS 2.8.3 (these downloads are currently hosted on our sister site, so don’t panic if you are redirected to this site). If in doubt as to which version to install, try the 64 bit version first, and only if this does not work on your computer, try the 32 bit version. To install it, follow the instructions here. Alternatively, you can watch a video which shows you how to download, install and set up QGIS hereNote: If, when using QGIS on a Windows computer, you find that you have trouble accessing the GRASS tools (e.g. the V.TO.RAST.ATTRIBUTE tool for step 3 of Exercise Three – which starts on page 186 of GIS For Biologists), the most likely reason is that you have installed the 32 bit version of QGIS when you should have installed the 64 bit version. To solve this issue, uninstall your current version of QGIS and then download and install the 64 bit version of QGIS 2.8.3 from here.

To install QGIS on a computer running a Mac OS, download a compressed file containing the QGIS .dmg file for version 2.8.4 clicking here. Once you have downloaded it, open the folder and install the .dmg file called QGIS-2.8.4-1.dmg. Note: You will probably need to change the security settings on your computer to allow you to install software from an unauthorised source before you can install QGIS. If you run into any problems, this video may help (this is not a GIS In Ecology video). The other .dmg files provided in this compressed folder are optional, but it is worth installing them too, after you have installed QGIS. If you choose to install these files, install them in the following order: NumPy-1.8.0-1.dmg, NumPy-1.9.2-1.dmg, SciPy-0.13.1-1.dmg, SciPy-0.16.0-1.dmg.

If you have any problems installing the correct version of QGIS on your computer, please check the ,em>Help And Support section at the bottom of this page.

Understanding The QGIS User Interface And How To Set It Up Correctly The First Time

Once you have installed the correct version of QGIS, make sure you read chapter eleven of GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates so that you understand the layout of its user interface. You can find the same information in the video below, but you still need to read chapter eleven to ensure that you set up the QGIS user interface in a way that is compatible with the instructions for the practical exercises in GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates and in the on-demand videos used in the exercises provided by this site.

An Introduction To GIS And Why It Is Useful For Biologists

The video below provides a very brief introduction to GIS, which explains what it is and why it is a useful tool for biologists. If, for some reason, you cannot see this video or hear the sound when it plays, click here for an alternative method of accessing it.

An Introduction To Projections

The concept of projections is critical to successfully using GIS in biological research. As a result, it is important that you understand what projections are before you start working through any of our exercises. The video below will provide you with a basic introduction to projections and explain why they are important in GIS.

You can find out more about projections and how to select an appropriate projection for a specific GIS project in chapter four of GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates. Once you have selected a suitable projection, the first thing you need to do is to set your GIS software to use it. For QGIS, this is done through the CRS (or Coordinate Reference System) tab of the Project Properties window, as shown in the video below.

When creating a GIS project, it is best to ensure that all your data layers are in the same projection/coordinate system and that this is the same one that you have selected for your GIS project. If any data layers are in a different projection/coordinate system, then you will need to transform a data layer from its current projection/coordinate system into the same one that you have selected for your GIS project. In QGIS, this can be done using the SAVE AS function as illustrated in the video below.

Help And Support With Getting Started

If you have any problems installing the correct version of QGIS on your computer, then feel free to ask a question in the comments section below (headed Leave a reply). However, before you submit a question, please check those which have already been asked and answered to see if they will solve the problems you are having before asking a new question. When submitting a question, make sure that you mention whether you are using a computer with a Windows or Mac OS operating system and which version of the operating system you have. As a spam-prevention measure, all comments on this page are moderated before they are posted. As a result, there may be a delay between when you post your comment, and when it appears. Once your comment has been successfully moderated, we will aim to respond to it within twenty-four hours. Note: Only comments that are directly related to problems installing QGIS on your computer be accepted and answered. If you have a more general question about the use of GIS in biological research, please visit the GIS In Ecology forum, where we will be happy to respond such questions.

6 thoughts on “Getting Started

  1. Need to know how long it takes for completion of this course? What was the fee structure in India and Quatar ? In India where to go for this (in Tamil Nadu)? End of the course completion what kind of certifications will received and from whom?

    1. Hi There,

      The GIS training provided by this site is only available online (you can find information about in-person courses at our sister site – although at the moment, these course are only run in UK and not internationally).

      The current online short course we offer consists of just over three hours of videos, and we estimate it will take, at most, approximately nine hours to work through these videos, read the accompanying recommended text and complete the practical exercises. Some people will be able to complete it in a much shorter period of time, and some people may take longer.

      Because it is available online, the cost of the course is the same regardless of where you are in the world. For our current short course, it will cost US$30 to subscribe to the videos for a period of three months (this means you have three months to complete the course). It is also recommended that you purchase a copy of ‘GIS For Biologists: A Practical Introduction For Undergraduates’ as this contains the written instructions for the exercises in the course (as well as other useful information on using GIS in biological research). This can be purchased from Amazon and all other good book sellers as a print book, or as a Kindle eBook direct from Amazon.

      At the moment, our online courses are competence-based courses. This means that their aim is to provide those who complete them with a basic level of competence in using GIS in biological research rather than to provide certification or a qualification in GIS abilities. As a result, at the moment, we don’t provide any certification for those who complete our courses. However, this is something that we may add as we develop our online GIS training further over the coming months.

      I hope this answers all your questions, If not, just let me know.

      1. Just to follow up on the previous reply to this comment, we have now added an optional assessment section to our course, and if this is successfully completed, the participant will receive an official certificate of completion. More details about this assessment procedure (including the additional cost) can be found in the optional extra section at the end of each exercise.

  2. Hi Colin,

    I’m having an issue with Exercise 3, but there didn’t seem to be an option to ‘Leave a Reply’ on that page, so I’m posting here, hope that’s ok!

    Video 8 Step 3: When I try to run ‘’ from ‘GRASS GIS 7 commands’ in the Processing Toolbox window, I am presented with the error: ‘Missing dependency. This algorithm cannot be run.’

    The video seems to be running ‘GRASS commands’, whilst my Processing Toolbox shows ‘GRASS GIS 7 commands’, not sure if that is the problem…

    I am running QGIS 2.8.3-Wien as per the video instructions.



    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve changed the settings so that comments are now allowed for the page for exercise three. In terms of the trouble you’re having with this exercise, can I confirm that you are using a Windows computer, and what version of Windows is installed on it?

      The most common reason for this issue is that you have installed the 64 bit version of QGIS on a machine running a 32 bit version of Windows, or that you have installed a 32 bit version of QGIS on a computer running a 64 bit version of Windows. You can find information on how to remedy this problem in the ‘Downloading And Installng QGIS’ seciton on this page, but basically it involves uninstalling QGIS and then re-installing the version which is compatible with your version of Windows. Don’t worry, none of your existing work should be afffected by doing this.

      If you’re running QGIS on a Windows machine, then try this option. If you’re not running a Windows machine, or if this solution doesn’t work, let me know by posting back ont this thread and I’ll see what I can sort out.

      All the best,


  3. I am trying to access the QGIS 2.8.4 that I put on my Mac. I can’t find it anywhere. I allowed it to down load but I can’t see it anywhere. Only the original icon is on my desk top and it just keeps saying it is already downloaded.

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