In the last decade there has been a surge in discussion, investment, and research pertaining to big data. While physicists have been handling big data well before the term was coined, big data has now noticeably entered an array of academic disciplines as well as everyday life. In addition, the interest and need to harness big data spans multiple sectors, encompassing academia, industry, and the government. While big data is often defined by a variety of parameters leading to disparate definitions, big data can be viewed as a tool to address new research questions resulting from an increase in computational power related to data storage and analytics. Econinformatics often falls within the realm of big data as it seeks to elucidate patterns and answer research questions through the analysis of large pre-existing data sets.
In a recent paper, Dr. Claudio Gratton and co-author Dr. Jay Rosemheim of UC-Davis delve into the strengths and weaknesses surrounding big data in relation to the field of agricultural entomology. Through the review of ecoinformatics and big data, the paper highlights the importance of pairing traditional research methods with econinformatic research techniques. Often times, ecoinformatic approaches arise from observational data sets and are associated with lower costs, as well as greater volume and statistical power. Experimental approaches on the other hand often allow for greater control in variable manipulation and data collection, in addition to reduced privacy concerns.
Past research within the field of agricultural entomology depicts econinformatic approaches used to answer a variety of research questions concerning trends in pest densities, the impact of transgenic crops, influence of landscape on pest populations, as well as patterns in pesticide use. While the use of ecoinformatics and big data allow for greater insight into research questions, it is essential that some cautions are considered. Namely, researchers must distinguish between relationships of correlation vs. causation that present themselves through big data.
In addition, as the presence of ecoinformatics and big data within the field of agriculture grows, collaboration between disciplines will strengthen the potential surrounding ecoinformatics and big data.
To read the paper in full:
Rosenheim, J. A., & Gratton, C. (2016). Ecoinformatics (big data) for agricultural entomology: pitfalls, progress, and promise. Annual review of entomology, (0).
If you would like to learn more about big data, mark your calendar for April 27th, when the University of Wisconsin- Madison will be hosting a symposium on Big Data and Ecoinformatics in Agricultural Research.
Other useful links are below:
Figure provided by CropScape, which provides crop-specific land cover data through the use of ecoinformatics and big data.
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer. 2016. Published crop-specific data layer [Online]. Available at https://nassgeodata.gmu.edu/CropScape/ (accessed 05 Feb. 2017; verified 05 Feb. 2017). USDA-NASS, Washington, DC.