When you hear the word: ‘trillion,’ what do you think of? Maybe you think about the number of trees in the world or the grains of sand on a beach. Lotem Taylor’s mind goes straight to data sets and migration patterns.   

Taylor has gone through more than a trillion data points during her nine-year conservation career. At Audubon, she leads spatial analyses for both the Migratory Bird Initiative (MBI) and Conservation Science teams. And as a Geographic Information System (GIS) and data analyst, her days are filled with developing automated processes to reformat, analyze, and visualize various datasets. In her time at Audubon, she has helped create climate suitability models and migration maps for hundreds of bird species.

“My geekiness for data comes from always wanting to be orderly and organized. And my geekiness for maps comes from a desire to understand the world that I'm situated in,” says Taylor. “Even though I am drawn to data processing and mapping for different reasons, the two complement each other because together they give you a better understanding of what is happening and what is needed in a particular place.”

But Taylor will be the first to tell you that she was not always a ‘geek for mapping,’ that came later in life. Her earliest hobbies and interests were hiking, spending time outside, and road tripping with her family—all things she still enjoys. Growing up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and later in the Central Valley of California, Taylor admits it was always hard to situate herself geographically. “In the Central Valley it was all flat and it all looked the same,” she says.

This map depicts bird movements, represented by arrows, between different saline lakes in the American West. The lakes are represented by circles.

But moving westward and closer to the San Francisco Bay for college helped her develop a better understanding and deeper curiosity about spatial awareness. As a Conservation & Resource Studies major at the University of California, Berkeley, Taylor coupled her lifelong fascination with wildlife and the outdoors with this growing interest in data and mapping. But her first GIS course did not fill her with joy. “I did not like it at all and only took the course so that I could gain more practical skills to help find a job after graduating,” says Taylor.

She explains that she decided to give GIS and mapping another chance because of her work experiences after graduating and great mentors along the way. She is often inspired by what people are doing with data visualization and how fellow scientists are using cutting-edge mapping technology. But she says she always came back to her place on the planet: “Maps are a really interesting way to understand where you are in the context of the world around you.”

Taylor's data processing allows conservationists to visualize the hemisphere-wide connections of Important Bird Areas like Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska. Map by: Lotem Taylor/Audubon. Source: USGS Bird Banding Lab

Taylor and the larger MBI team are currently gearing up for that platform’s soft launch in the summer and larger rollout later in the fall. Once complete, the platform will showcase everything that’s known about the migratory movements of more than 500 species of birds throughout the Western Hemisphere so that we can better protect the most important places they need throughout their life cycles. Excitement is high as the MBI team continues to consolidate the best-available migration science to map where birds go and what threats they face over the course of a year.

For Taylor, it is a mix of enthusiasm, anxiousness, and déjà vu. Taylor was a part of multiple launches during her tenure at Audubon, including the Water and Birds in the Arid West report, The Future of Birds in Our National Parks, and Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink. If one thing is certain it is that: If Lotem Taylor is here, then the Migratory Bird Initiative will be ready for takeoff.

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