14 November 2019

Protecting against pest outbreaks through modeling

Options Winter 2019/20: A newly developed multi-scale network model can help to mitigate the spreading potential of pests.

© Tõnu Pani | Wikipedia

© Tõnu Pani | Wikipedia

Pest outbreaks can have devastating effects on the overall health of any ecosystem and wipe out entire crops or forests. Furthermore, these pests can wreak havoc on the local economies that depend on an ecosystem for food, agriculture, or other resources.

According to recent research, pest outbreaks are driven largely by ecological processes acting at different spatial scales. The evidence also suggests that causes for pest outbreaks are far more complex than any one particular reason. Factors such as weather, landscape topology, and food availability can all contribute to an outbreak. As such, finding a way to solve this problem requires an equally complex and multi-fold approach.

Matthias Wildemeersch, a researcher in the Advanced Systems Analysis Program contributed to a study in which a network model was developed to analyze and manage pest outbreaks across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Unlike previous statistical models, this analytical model takes into account pest dynamics on a smaller scale as well as larger-scale factors, such as landscape topology and connectivity. The researchers discovered that outbreaks can only be captured correctly if the interaction between landscape topology and host-pest dynamics is well understood.

"Accounting for how habitat patches interact with one another is key to understanding if a pest outbreak is likely to occur and then spread through a landscape,” explains Wildemeersch. “An important implication of this multi-scale network model is its use in forest management to optimally mitigate the spreading potential of a pest.”

By Jeremy Summers

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Last edited: 21 November 2019


Matthias Wildemeersch

Research Scholar Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

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International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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