Internet-based IPM Informatics and Decision Support

Waheed I. Bajwa and Marcos Kogan
Integrated Plant Protection Center (IPPC)
Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331

Introduction

Knowledge and information are key to correct pest management decisions. Integrated pest management (IPM), a system that emphasizes appropriate decision making, is information intensive and depends heavily on accurate and timely information for field implementation by practitioners (Bajwa and Kogan 2000). Additionally, it is critical to strengthen the communication links between researchers and extension professionals and their clientele to expedite multi-way exchange of information and technology transfer. In addition, researchers and extension specialists need the most up-to-date information to design new projects and set future research goals and directions. 

There is already a large volume of useful IPM information available on the Internet, however, the information is scattered all across the globe. These resources range from topics such as pest identification, biology, control tactics, IPM definitions and basic concepts, to modeling and systems analysis. As awareness of the Internet increases worldwide, more people are participating not only as users of the information but also as creators of new information; as a consequence, the number of both IPM Internet servers and clients is increasing rapidly, perhaps slightly lagging but generally accompanying the exponential growth of the internet itself.

The transfer of research and extension information to farmers plays the key role in the adoption of IPM. Electronic communication provides an effective multidirectional exchange of information. Electronic extension systems provide 24-hour access to an inquirer of specific information to be used in planning and decision support. In fact, it is rapidly changing the way individuals exchange information and make decisions. Now it is possible for extension services and applied researchers to deliver and receive information to and from much larger audiences via fax (both Internet- and telephone-based document delivery systems), multimedia programs, email, and the web. The emphasis is, however, beginning to shift from traditional one-way flow of information from research, then to extension, and finally to end-users of information, to the more egalitarian process where the pool of total experience and knowledge available in the community, from growers, industry, research and extension, is readily exchanged through electronic means, focused learning workshops, and increased on-farm applied research. 

Definition of IPM Informatics

The simplistic definition of IPM Informatics is computer applications in Integrated Pest Management. The term encompasses computer-based storage, retrieval, sharing, and optimal use of pest management data, information, and knowledge for problem solving and decision-making. It includes all basic and applied fields in pest management sciences (acarology, entomology, plant nematology, plant pathology, vertebrate pest management and weed science) and is closely tied to modern information technologies, particularly in the areas of computing and communication. More specifically, IPM Informatics is defined as the study, invention, and implementation of structures and algorithms to improve communication, understanding and management of IPM information. The goal of IPM informatics is the coalescing of data, knowledge, and the tools necessary to apply that data and knowledge in the decision-making process, at the time and place that a decision needs to be made. The focus on the structures and algorithms necessary to manipulate the information separates IPM Informatics from other IPM disciplines where information content is the focus.

The Internet-based Decision Support Systems

A Decision Support Systems (DSS) integrates a user-friendly front end to often complex models, knowledgebases, expert systems, and database technologies (Coulson et al., 1987; Jones 1989). DSS are important component of IPM informatics. Web-based models and DSS are becoming popular because little or no client software is required, thus reducing software management and distribution costs (Power & Kaparthi, 1998). Several internet-based DSS have been developed for industry, medicine, business, meteorology, and agriculture. DSS have emerged as essential tools to bridge the gap between science-based technology and end-users who make day-to-day management decisions. A general DSS web site is "DSS Resources" <http://dssresources.com/> (Power, 2000). This site provides information on basic concepts, development, deployment, and evaluation of DSS's. Also, it links to university and research DSS sites and case studies, various web-based DSS's and DSS related articles, web sites of DSS companies, etc.

Generally, an IPM - DSS should provide users all necessary information including pest identification/disease diagnosis, pest/pathogen life histories (cycles), sampling and decision making criteria, sampling threshold calculators, pest/disease developmental models linked to weather networks, biorational pest control methods, plus currently available pesticides, and their safety issues and environmental impacts. There are no true IPM DSS online at this time, but many of the resources are available and waiting for proper integration. For example, various weather-based disease and insect pest models are available online for local forecasting of pest situations based on real time, near-real time, and/or historical weather data. For example, the phenology model database of the University of California Statewide IPM Project (UCIPM 1998) contains information about, and models of, more than 100 plants, pests, and beneficial organisms (predators and parasitoids). This information can be utilized for developing web-based pest management DSS. The Integrated Plant Protection Center (IPPC) <http://www.ipmnet.org/> of Oregon State University developed several online interactive resources including near real-time daily weather data, various degree-day products (calculators, phenology models, maps, and map calculator), and weather-based phenology models for pest management decision-making in the four Northwestern U.S. states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana) (Coop 2000). Forecasting pest and disease incidence and development is highly valuable in planning and adjusting control measures. Another example is the Codling Moth Information Support System (CMISS) <http://ipmnet.org/codlingmoth/>. This site contains various knowledgebases, databases, phenology models, and links to worldwide resources on codling moth. Currently, there is an evolution of pest control recommendation resources towards online interactive, more comprehensive decision support tools. Examples include Cornell University vegetable IPM recommendations at <http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/default.asp> and Pacific Northwest Plant disease control guidelines at <http://horticulture.oregonstate.edu/content/pacific-northwest-plant-disease-management-handbook-0>.

Dynamic sites that include interactive models, GIS (Geographical Information System) based decision systems, real-time weather, and market information are being rapidly developed and made available on the Internet. An example is the Pacific Northwest IPM Weather Data and Degree-Days Website (Coop, 2000). At this site, daily temperature and precipitation data are gathered from 380 publicly and privately available weather stations and linked directly to pest phenology models for 22 insects, 2 diseases, and 2 crop species. This system typically serves phenology updates and forecast to Extension agents who interpret and report the information for local needs. Another example is the plant production information system Plant eInfo (https://www.landbrugsinfo.dk/Sider/Startside.aspx) developed in 1996 by the Danish Agricultural Research and Advisory Organizations. A key feature of this system is pest and disease warnings based on weather data-driven forecast models. The meteorological data are transferred daily from the Danish Meteorological Institute to provide freshly updated warnings and recommendations (Thysen, 1998). In 1997, Vandregnskab, a PC (personal computer)-based irrigation decision support system, was converted to an interactive Internet version and added to Plant eInfo. This online version of Vandregnskab attracted more farmers in one year than the PC program had in five years, because of the automatic access to weather data and a more user-friendly layout (Thysen, 1998). 

IPM Extension and the Internet

The impact of modern electronic technology for extension information communication has been anticipated over a decade ago (Dik & Travieso 1986); however, no one may have predicted the opportunities that have been opened with advent of the Internet and the Web. An Internet-based network provides one virtual platform for a decentralized organization like the cooperative extension service with its personnel and operation spread all over its jurisdiction, by bridging the distance gap and operating as a unit. According to Trede and Miller 1993, there are a few barriers such as lack of time on the part of extension personnel, funds, training, and experience for efficiently using this technology for information delivery and analysis. Nevertheless, email and other Internet tools are widely used and preferred by Extension agents for exchanging time-sensitive information and networking with researchers and subject specialists (Boone, 1998). Extension agents view the web as an information resource with great potential for just-in-time communications (Boone, 1998). 

Information exchange by electronic means has revitalized the role of extension services in providing information, education, and decision-making assistance to agricultural producers. Cooperative extension services in many countries have developed electronic information systems. For example, the states of Florida <http://ipm.ifas.ufl.edu/> and Colorado <http://extension.colostate.edu/> offer the majority of their publications through the web or on CD-ROM. Now, it is possible to use an electronic mail or "Ask an Expert" (AAE) web page for requesting information from extension professionals on a specific topic. The Web-based systems rely on email servers/clients for responding to the queries; however, a record of each question and its answer is kept in a searchable database. Clients have access to these services 24 hours a day to identify and contact an expert for answering questions. With these systems, extension professionals may respond in a more thoughtful manner by completing any necessary research before responding. These systems are better than using telephone to call a professional who may not have information readily available thus requiring additional phone calls and time delays. Many extension services offers searchable AAE databases. Examples include "Ask an Expert" <http://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app21/rtw/index.jsp> of Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Canada), and "Ask Our Experts!" <https://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/index.html> of Virtual Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory, Purdue University (USA).

A digital photograph of a plant problem can be sent to a crop consultant for proper advising and treatment recommendations. These services are readily accepted and greatly appreciated by the public (Gilman & Green, 1998). It seems that using electronic means of information exchange enhances the image of the extension services as a modern and effective source of information, education, and decision support for its clientele, thus strengthening its leadership role. One example is the Distance Diagnostic Identification System (DDIS) (http://ddis.ifas.ufl.edu/) from the University of Florida, USA.

Web-based information systems and databases are now becoming essential information delivery /exchange tools for the Cooperative Extension Service. These resources are freely accessible by users, whether a producer, a professional consultant, or an extension worker. These systems provide a solid base for exchanging information between experts and their clientele. They have proved to be efficient and cost-effective means of decision-support in agriculture. Online databases (e.g. for decision support in IPM) increase the ability of an extension professional to provide the latest information to the local public. In addition, they enable extension professionals to keep in touch with the technological advancements in areas inside and outside their personal expertise. Also, research and information needs may be identified by gaps in databases. The scope of web-based information delivery is not just limited to a particular (local) area/community. It is readily available to broader areas resulting in less duplication of effort by local experts. If appropriately coordinated, it can leverage collaborative efforts among professionals in the neighboring areas/states/countries, thus greatly enhancing the quality of information. With the Internet, specialists can participate cooperatively in a wide-area/national project with minimum travel and other expense involved. Electronic networking may ease and enhance extension specialists-researchers interactivity and cooperative development of comprehensive national and international databases. It may reduce overhead costs such as telephone, mail, printing, and storage costs.

A wealth of online, extension IPM resources exists including identification keys, diagnostic guides, predictive models, in-season pest alerts, pest and disease management guidelines, pest management alternatives, etc. Examples of some outstanding resources are listed below in Table 1.

Table 1. Some Outstanding Online IPM Resources from different Regions and Perspectives.
(Bajwa & Kogan: Internet-based IPM Informatics and Decision Support)

Theme / Address

1. Information Retrieval and Referral Systems

2. Phenology, Models and Pest Forecasting

3. North America

4. Australiasia

5. Asia


6. Africa

7. South America

8. Europe

9. International

10. Industry

11. Growers

12. Books/Literature

IPM Education and the Internet

The web provides an exciting new opportunity for distance teaching and learning (Gottschalk, 1996). Internet tools such as email and the web are widely used in universities and other educational institutions. Virtual online seminars and text-based lectures are delivered daily. Entire courses are offered with students never having to visit the physical campus. Students can participate in case studies and debates from remote locations across the Internet. Educators offer electronic office hours and host discussion groups to assist students in ways that expand the time when students can reach out for help (Oblinger & Maruyama, 1996). The Internet has also become a very powerful information providing system for dissemination of educational materials (Maurer & Scherbakov, 1996). 

The Internet's potential for improving effectiveness and efficiency is huge for all educational institutions. Its ability to allow access to information and knowledge across the world, enhance communication between colleagues, and provide a new teaching medium for student centered learning can assist educators in several ways. If adoption by the educational community is successful, educators will have access to curriculum materials, content area information, news about current events, state and local happenings, and be able to keep in touch with colleagues across the globe from a computer on their desktop. 

IPM Research and the Internet

Internet tools like email and the Web are frequently used in the academic/scientific communities. Some research activity like literature search and acquisition, and research collaboration is the most impacted by the Internet (Leung, 1998). However, other uses are emerging. Most informational databases, previously available in the academic libraries or university's Local Area Networks (LAN), are now online. The same is true for most journals and magazines. Some online databases provide information directly, but most are bibliographic, providing only references to the literature where information can be found; abstracts are sometimes given as an option. However, online searching has recently been undergoing a shift in focus, with full-text databases appearing. These databases offer access to primary sources through the complete text of articles and books, bypassing the bibliographic stage. Most online resources are free except for the most recent issues of journals/serials and commercial database services. Corporate subscriptions to these services and resources (online journals and other serials) permit employees/students/users to read, download or print the whole article using their own computer. Several publishers have already made, or are in a process of making, issues published more than two years ago available free of charge. The Internet is also being used by researchers in data collection, analysis, and as a tool for publishing scholarly journals (Oblinger & Maruyama, 1996). Electronic surveys (both HTTP://WWW- and email-based) have proved to be cost effective and a convenient method of collecting data for extension and agricultural specialists. Surveys based on email did not adversely affect the return rate or response, effectively yielding the same results as a paper survey (Rosenfeld et al., 1993). WWW provides a cost-effective conduit to disseminate research-based information. Research results can be published on the web rapidly.

Authentic online databases provide up-to-date information on a given topic. They can be used to identify research and information needs by exploring the gaps in knowledge. Graduate students may use these resources to find new thesis topics. A few examples of these resources include genome databases for several plant, fungal, and other organisms available at: http://bioinfo.bti.cornell.edu/lab/homepage/tool.shtml. The site is a user friendly system with a variety of information on cotton, maize, wheat, barley, rye, beans (Glycine, Phaseolus, Vigna), pearl millet, rice, solanaceae, rosaceae, rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe grisea), and fungal pathogens of small-grain cereals. This site also hosts various botanical databases on plant ecological ranges, native American food plants, medicinal plants of native America, phytochemicals, plant variety protection, and worldwide plant uses. The site is very useful for finding information on a plant species and its associative organisms such as arthropod fauna and microbial flora. Another resource, NEMABASE <http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/NEMABASE/> is a database on the host status of plant species for plant-parasitic nematodes. This database contains information (for each host-parasite interaction) on nematode species, nematode subspecific designation, host species and cultivar, susceptibility to damage, damage functions and thresholds, geographic location, and fungal, bacterial or viral interactions. The "Ecological Database of the World's Insect Pathogens (EDWIP)" <http://cricket.inhs.uiuc.edu/edwipweb/edwipabout.htm> provides information on fungi, viruses protozoa, mollicutes, nematodes, and bacteria (other than Bacillus thuringiensis) infectious to insects, mites, and other arthropods. This source provides information on host range, countries, and habitats where host-pathogen association can be observed. This database can be used for risk analysis and environmental impact assessment of the use of entomopathogens as control agents for insect and mite pests. Plant Viruses Online <http://pvo.bio-mirror.cn/refs.htm> contains information on most species of virus known to infect plants including viruses with virions and those (e.g. umbraviruses) that have no virion protein genes of their own, and use the virion proteins of their symbiotic helper viruses instead. Resources such as International Survey of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds <http://weedscience.org/>, and Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) <http://www.irac-online.org/>, contain general and specific information about respective pesticide insecticide resistance, latest facts, and results of worldwide surveys.

Conclusion

The Internet enables collaboration and information sharing on an unprecedented scale. It is becoming a prime medium for research and extension communication. The World Wide Web, the Internet's hypertext, multimedia publishing protocol, makes it possible to combine information from many different sites in a seamless fashion. The potential for using the web to integrate all types of static and interactive (dynamic) information is unique and unprecedented. The web provides excellent interfaces for all kinds of interactive network databases, and many kinds of online analyses and data processing. Web-based models and decision support systems (DSS) are becoming popular because little or no client software is required, thus reducing software management and distribution costs. No other medium offers such ability as simultaneous real-time weather information, multimedia, analytical processing and multi-way discussion and feedback.

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