Farmers and private consultants execute a vast, decentralized data collection effort with each cropping cycle, as they gather pest density data to make real-time pest management decisions. Here we present a proof of concept for an ecoinformatics approach to pest management research, which attempts to harness these data to answer questions about pest-crop interactions. The impact of herbivory by Lygus hesperus on cotton is explored as a case study. Consultant-derived data satisfied a 'positive control' test for data quality by clearly resolving the expected negative relationship between L. hesperus density and retention of flower buds. The enhanced statistical power afforded by the large ecoinformatics dataset revealed an early-season window of crop sensitivity, during which L. hesperus densities as low as 1-2 per sample were associated with yield loss. In contrast, during the mid-season insecticide use by farmers was often unnecessary, as cotton compensated fully for moderate L. hesperus densities. Because the dataset emerged from the commercial production setting, it also revealed the limited degree to which farmers were willing to delay crop harvest to provide opportunities for compensatory fruiting. Observational approaches to pest management research have strengths and weaknesses that complement those of traditional, experimental approaches; combining these methods can contribute to enhanced agricultural productivity. © 2013 Rosenheim, Meisner.
Rosenheim, J. A., & Meisner, M. H. (2013). Ecoinformatics can reveal yield gaps associated with crop-pest interactions: A proof-of-concept. PLoS ONE, 8(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080518