Plant disease epidemiology and food security
Role of epidemiological models in decision making for crop protection
Traditionally, growers strongly rely on calendar application of chemical pesticides. Directive 128/2009/EC makes integrated pest management (IPM) mandatory across Europe to reduce the negative impacts of pesticides on human health and the environment. A key principle of IPM is to protect crops only when it is necessary, i.e., when there is the risk for pathogens to develop, attack plants and cause damage. Weather is one of the main drivers for disease development. The study of the relationships between weather conditions, pests and diseases is a long lasting story. However, in recent years, new research approaches have increased our ability to investigate and understand these complex relationships. Similarly, advanced modeling techniques made it possible to incorporate this knowledge in a new generation of mechanistic models, able to produce accurate and robust predictions. Finally, advances in information and communication technologies made it possible to incorporate models into decision support systems (DSSs) and to effectively deliver them to growers. These DSSs are characterized by: (i) holistic vision of crop management problems and on their interactions; (ii) incorporation of mathematical models to predict plant growth and development, disease development, physical mode of action of fungicides, etc., (iv) provision of information on the focus of the decision in the form of easy-to-understand decision supports; (v) easy and fast access through the Internet; and (vi) two-way communication between users and providers, which make it possible to consider context-specific information, such as crop and varieties, soil characteristics, etc., in addition to weather data.