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Pest and disease modelling

What we do:

Pest and disease modelling uses mathematics and computer programming to understand the underlying mechanisms that determine the invasion and spread of infectious diseases of plants and plant pest populations. Pest and diseases have increased dramatically in recent times because of increasing world trade and travel, and evermore restricted control options, as chemical inputs are regulated and removed from market due to environmental concerns. This has stark consequences for both agricultural and natural plant populations. A key practical focus at Warwick is the design of strategies to forecast, detect and manage pathogen and pest populations. We work closely with national and international plant health bodies and stakeholders to inform plant pest and disease management, and biosecurity policy and practice.

University of Warwick models for pests of vegetable crops

We have developed a number of models to forecast pest infestations in vegetable crops and some of these have been incorporated into the MORPH software. More information about these models is available here.

Current and recent projects:

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) 2022-2023. Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program – Spotted Lanternfly Preparedness Planning.

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) (SLF) is an invasive pest, primarily known to feed on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but has many other host plants, including grape, hop, apple, stone fruit, maple, poplar, walnut, and willow. The pest is currently spreading in the east of the United States but if it invades and is allowed to spread in California, could lead to significant impacts, not least on grapevine production and forest industries. Early detection is critical to prevent economic and ecological losses. In this project we are addressing the potential impact of SLF in California as well as identifying strategies for its detection and control.

Collaborators: University of California, Davis.

Warwick Project Leader: Stephen Parnell

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 2022-2024. Exploring citizen science contribution to statistically sound and risk-based surveillance of insect pests in the EU.

The general objective of this project is to develop a methodology for the integration of citizen science data in the design of statistically sound and risk-based surveys of quarantine insect pests in the EU. It has been argued that the only feasible way to ensure sufficient sampling intensity for early detection of invading pests across vast and complex host landscapes is the use of reports from landowners and members of the public. However, to make accurate inferences from this data e.g. to answer questions such as ‘what is the prevalence of a pest when first discovered by a citizen scientist’, we need to develop approaches to estimate the sensitivity of citizen science reports.

Collaborators: Wageningen University

Warwick Project Leader: Stephen Parnell

Defra Future Proofing Plant Health 2021-2023. A new approach to quantify the sensitivity and specificity of citizen scientists in plant health surveillance.

Citizen science programmes have expanded in tree and plant health recently and successful projects such as Observatree show considerable promise in detecting and mapping pest and disease incursions. However, volunteer abilities differ and some pests or diseases are easier to identify than others. An estimate of the sensitivity and specificity of any detection method is therefore essential to make inferences from surveillance data. This project is using data collected by volunteers on the prevalence and severity of Acute Oak Decline (AOD) from woodland sites across England to develop new statistical approaches to quantify the sensitivity and specificity of citizen sciences programmes.

Collaborators: Forest Research, Woodland Heritage

Warwick Project Leader: Stephen Parnell

Defra Future Proofing Plant Health 2021-2023. A survey planning tool for ongoing outbreaks.

The project will provide a set of tools and recommendations for plant health survey planning with different levels of complexity, whereby users can use one or all of the following to plan future surveys: host maps; pest or disease susceptibility maps; model outputs of estimated current prevalence and where to focus future surveys. The tools can easily be upscaled to incorporate a range of hosts, pest and diseases. The overarching aim is to facilitate the development of harmonised tools and databases for plant health survey planning and data collection in the UK.

Collaborators: Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

Warwick Project Leader: Stephen Parnell

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) 2020-2023. SMARTIES: Surveillance and Management of multiple Risks to Treescapes: Integrating Epidemiology and Stakeholder behaviour.

Tree-species in the UK are threatened by an increasing number of pests and diseases resulting in large economic, environmental and social costs. Preventing the introduction of such threats is often difficult, therefore, early detection and successful management are key areas where science can deliver. An important facet that is often neglected by science-based approaches is the ability and willingness of managers to adopt advice on the surveillance and management of pests and diseases as well as the acceptability of different approaches in wider society. In this project, we will develop a truly interdisciplinary approach to understand the key epidemiological and human behavioural factors that govern the invasion and spread of multiple threats to tree health and so determine successful surveillance and management at a whole system level, rather than on a pest specific basis. Emerging threats to UK ash trees offer an important case study for our research, with a particular focus on Emerald Ash Borer.

Collaborators: Rothamsted Research, Forest Research, University of York.

Warwick Project Leader: Stephen Parnell