Applications of geographic information systems and geostatistics in plant disease epidemiology and management

Merritt R. Nelson, Thomas V. Orum, Ramon Jaime-Garcia, Athar Nadeem

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Despite our enthusiasm for this technology, we are not proposing that it is a solution to all plant disease management problems or that it is appropriate for every operation. A critical assessment of the technology can be summarized in terms of the practical, the theoretical, and the personal. Practically, the biggest drawback is the cost associated with the time needed to learn the software and to acquire the data. Research is needed on cost/benefit analyses of GIS applications in agriculture. GIS is of little practical value when a spatial pattern is uniform except perhaps in contrast to nonuniform patterns. On the other extreme, if the change in pattern is faster than data can be acquired, spatially referenced data might be skewed and misleading. There are theoretical limitations to the use of geostatistics, because the geostatistical model in which spatial analyses lead to surface maps does not always apply. Also, certain assumptions (30) may not be appropriate in some cases. A geostatistical analysis does not need to be a part of every spatial analysis or GIS. There is, we believe, a personal subjective component to the suitability of this technology in plant disease management. It is our informal observation that some people are more inclined than others to frame problems spatially. We suspect benefits from the communication possibilities of the technology will vary with individuals. The current most successful applications of this technology involve teamwork. A good combination is a team that includes an experienced field person, an experienced computer user with some background in statistics, and a patient data entry person. Such a combination is not always available and is rare in a single individual. Larger farms, younger farmers, and better-funded extension programs are more likely to apply these tools. A characteristic of agricultural GIS is that it strongly favors Operations that have computer resources and skills. On the other hand, it may not be practical to avoid a resource that is already in wide use in government and industry, including the agricultural industry. We believe that the integration of GIS, GPS, and geostatistics provides a tool for the refined analysis of traditional and contemporary biological/ecological information on plant diseases. It will aid practitioners in the design of disease management in IPM programs, particularly on a regional scale. It will also provide a way of analyzing and communicating results of regional programs on a continuing basis. The availability of software capable of producing attractive maps provides an opportunity to visually communicate plant disease situations to a variety of audiences. We feel a major benefit of this technology is derived from a combination of many images, not just a single image (e.g., Figs. 4, 6, and 8). Such output can be used by decisionmakers to stimulate coordinated action allowing available resources to be focused on the most significant problems. GIS and geostatistics are particularly useful in identifying recurring patterns of plant disease, as well as other problems such as insect and weed infestations. The association of environmental factors, landscape features, and cropping patterns with the recurrence of disease or other problems can be readily communicated to key managers and decisionmakers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-319
Number of pages12
JournalPlant disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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