Archive for the ‘holistic analysis’ Category

Earth observation: bridging the gap to crop-pest systems

November 16, 2016 Leave a comment

The workshop “When Space Meets Agriculture” aimed at promoting a better understanding of the significance and potential of Europe’s space systems (EGNOS/Galileo and Copernicus) for the agricultural sector. While introducing Rural Development Programmes of selected regions and exploring opportunities to set synergies for the development of space applications for the agriculture sector, it will present the main strands of the European Agriculture Policy and more generally link the space community to the agriculture community. Our contribution identified recent and prospective holistic analyses of climate change effects on crop-pest systems in the Mediterranean Basin. The approach used in the analyses involves using physiologically based demographic modeling (PBDM) of crop-pest-natural enemy interactions in the context of a geographic information system (GIS). A major goal is to link the PBDM/GIS technology with increasingly available biophysical datasets from global modeling and satellite observations, and use them to bridge the gap between bottom-up (primarily physiological and population dynamics) and top-down (climatological) GIS approaches for assessing on ground ecosystem level problems, such as agricultural pests.

Ponti L., Gutierrez A.P., Iannetta M., 2016. Climate change and crop-pest dynamics in the Mediterranean Basin. When Space Meets Agriculture: Fostering Interregional collaborations, investments and definition of user requirements. Workshop organized by NEREUS, the Network of European Regions Using Space Technologies, Matera, Italy, 14‐15 November 2016. | Presentation freely available online

Conceptual diagram representing how physiologically-based demographic models bridge the gap between bottom-up (primarily physiological and population dynamics) and top-down (climatological, remote sensing, and ecological niche modeling) GIS approaches for assessing on-ground ecosystem-level problems such as agricultural pests (see Rocchini et al. 2015).

Traditional farming and the Mediterranean diet

September 10, 2016 Leave a comment

The Mediterranean diet is described by the UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity website ( as encompassing more than just food of the various cultures. These diets are embedded in bio-cultural landscapes that are at risk from global markets, industrial agriculture, invasive species and climate change, and yet little research aimed at conserving this Mediterranean agricultural heritage is being conducted. A focus on preserving traditional Mediterranean agricultural systems provides unique opportunities to link UNESCO-SCBD’s Joint Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity (​) and FAO’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems initiative (GIAHS, with the goal of developing strategies and policy to preserve this heritage and the food production systems that are its basis for future generations. An important step in this direction is the development of holistic ecosystem-level assessments of the stability and resilience of traditional Mediterranean farming systems to evolving global change including climate change and shifting economic patterns and associated landscape transformations. A holistic approach is an important step to ensure ecologically sustainable development, conserve cultural identities, improve farming community livelihood, preserve agro-biodiversity and ensure the continued provision of vital ecosystem services for humanity.

Ponti L., Gutierrez A.P., Altieri M.A., 2016. Preserving the Mediterranean diet through holistic strategies for the conservation of traditional farming systems. In: Agnoletti M., Emanueli F. (eds.), Biocultural Diversity in Europe, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland: 453-469.

Linking UNESCO-SCBD’s Joint Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity and FAO’s GIAHS initiative may help preserve the traditional Mediterranean agricultural heritage.

PBDMs for evidence-based pest risk assessment

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The distribution and abundance of species that cause economic loss (i.e., pests) in crops, forests or livestock depends on many biotic and abiotic factors that are thought difficult to separate and quantify on geographical and temporal scales. However, the weather-driven biology and dynamics of such species and of relevant interacting species in their food chain or web can be captured via mechanistic physiologically based demographic models (PBDMs) that can be implemented in the context of a geographic information system (GIS) to project their potential geographic distribution and relative abundance given observed or climate change scenarios of weather. PBDMs may include bottom-up effects of the host on pest dynamics and, if appropriate, the top-down action of natural enemies. When driven by weather, PBDMs predict the phenology, age structure and abundance dynamics at one or many locations enabling projecting the distribution of the interacting species across wide geographic areas. PBDMs are able to capture relevant ecosystem complexity within a modest number of measurable parameters because they use the same ecological models of analogous resource acquisition and allocation processes across all trophic levels. The use of these analogies makes parameter estimation easier as the underlying functions are known. This is a significant advantage in cases where the available biological data is sparse.

Ponti L., Gilioli G., Biondi A., Desneux N., Gutierrez A.P., 2015. Physiologically based demographic models streamline identification and collection of data in evidence-based pest risk assessment. EPPO Bulletin, 45: 317-322.

PBDM sub-models used for all species.

Indian cotton: weather, yields and suicides

August 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Cotton with coevolving pests has been grown in India for more than 5000 years. Hybrid cotton was introduced in the 1970s with increases in fertilizer and in insecticide use against pink bollworm that caused outbreaks of bollworm. Hybrid Bt cotton, introduced in 2002 to control bollworm and other lepidopteran pests, is grown on more than 90 % of the cotton area. Despite initial declines, year 2013 insecticide use is at 2000 levels, yields plateaued nationally, and farmer suicides increased in some areas. Biological modeling of the pre-1970s cotton/pink bollworm system was used to examine the need for Bt cotton, conditions for its economic viability, and linkage to farmer suicides. Yields in rainfed cotton depend on timing, distribution, and quantity of monsoon rains. Pink bollworm causes damage in irrigated cotton, but not in rainfed cotton unless infested from irrigated fields. Use of Bt cotton seed and insecticide in rainfed cotton is questionable. Bt cotton may be economic in irrigated cotton, whereas costs of Bt seed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. Inability to use saved seed and inadequate agronomic information trap cotton farmers on biotechnology and insecticide treadmills. Annual suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield, and directly related to increases in Bt cotton adoption (i.e., costs). High-density short-season cottons could increase yields and reduce input costs in irrigated and rainfed cotton. Policy makers need holistic analysis before new technologies are implemented in agricultural development.

Gutierrez A.P., Ponti L., Herren H.R., Baumgärtner J., Kenmore P.E.. 2015. Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides. Environmental Sciences Europe, 27: 12. | Open access

Simulated phenology of cotton fruiting and pink bollworm in irrigated and rainfed cotton during 2005. The movement of adults to rainfed cotton during late summer is indicated by the broad arrow.

MED Solutions

July 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August 2012, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales. SDSN is chaired by Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University (for more details see University of Siena coordinates the SDSN Regional hub for the Mediterranean (MED Solutions). The second MED Solutions conference was held in Siena on 5-6 March 2015 ( One of the four Solutions for Agri-Food Sustainability selected and presented at the conference was “SPMP-MED: A Sustainable Pest Management technological Platform for the MEDiterranean basin” (see presentation by Dr. Gianni Gilioli linked below) that includes an approach not unlike that used by the GlobalChangeBiology project. The Mediterranean basin is a biodiversity hotspot characterized by intensive and marginal farming that affect biodiversity and ecosystem services. SPMP-MED was proposed as technology for assessing sustainable local and regional pest management using weather driven models with high spatio-temporal resolution. The technology will be made available to a wide range of stakeholders.

Gilioli, G., Caroli A., Memo M., Castelli F., Ponti L., Gutierrez A.P., 2015. SPMP-MED: A Sustainable Pest Management technological Platform for the MEDiterranean basin. Second Conference of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) for the Mediterranean (MED Solutions) “Solutions for Agri-food Sustainability in the Mediterranean: Policies, Technologies and Business Models”, Siena, Italy, 5-6 March 2015.

Holistic approach in invasive species research

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

The Mediterranean Basin is a climate change and biological invasion hotspot where recent warming is facilitating the establishment and spread of invasive species, one of which is the highly destructive South American tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta). This pest recently invaded the Mediterranean Basin where it threatens solanaceous crops. Holistic approaches are required to project the potential geographic distribution and relative abundance of invasive species and hence are pivotal to developing sound policy for their management. This need is increasing dramatically in the face of a surge in biological invasions and climate change. However, while holistic analyses of invasive species are often advocated, they are rarely implemented. We propose that physiologically-based demographic models (PBDMs) in the context of a geographic information system (GIS) can provide the appropriate level of synthesis required to capture the complex interactions basic to manage invasive species such as T. absoluta. We review the PBDMs for two invasive flies, and use them as a basis for assessing the biological data available for the development of a PBDM for T. absoluta, and in the process identify large data gaps that using the PBDM as a guide can be easily filled. Other components for an ecologically-based management program for this pest (habitat modification, natural and classical biocontrol, pheromones, and others) are also reviewed. The development of a PBDM for T. absoluta would provide the basis for an interdisciplinary agroecological synthesis of the problem and the role different control tactics would play in region-specific control of the pest.

Ponti L., Gutierrez A.P., Altieri M.A., 2015. Holistic approach in invasive species research: the case of the tomato leaf miner in the Mediterranean Basin. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, | Get a free reprint

PBDM sub-models used for all species in all trophic levels.