Three-dimensional visualization of long-range atmospheric transport of crop pathogens and insect pests
Some of the most devastating crop diseases and insect pests can be transmitted by wind over extremely long distances. These low-probability but high-impact events can have severe consequences for crop production and food security by causing epidemic outbreaks or devastating insect infestations in previously uninfected geographic areas. Two prominent examples that have recently caused substantial damage to agricultural production are novel strains of wheat rusts and desert locust swarm infestations. Whilst quantitative estimates of long-range atmospheric transport events can be obtained using meteorological transport simulations, the exact characteristics of three-dimensional spatiotemporal dynamics of crop pathogen transport and insect flight on extremely large spatial scales, over entire regions and continents, remain largely unknown. Here, we investigate the feasibility and usefulness of new advanced geospatial data visualization methods for studying extremely long-distance airborne transmission of crop pathogens and insect pests. We combine field surveillance data and a Lagrangian Particle Dispersion Model with novel techniques from computer graphics to obtain, for the first time, detailed three-dimensional visual insights into airborne crop pathogen and insect pest transport on regional and continental scales. Visual insights into long-distance dispersal of pests and pathogens are presented as a series of short 3D movies. We use interactive three-dimensional visual data analysis for explorative examination of long-range atmospheric transport events from a selection of outbreak and infestation sites in East Africa and South East Asia. The practical usefulness of advanced 3D visualization methods for improving risk estimates and early warning is discussed in the context of two operational crop disease and insect pest management systems (for wheat rusts and desert locusts). The tools and methods introduced here can be applied to other pathogens, pests, and geographical areas and can improve understanding of risks posed to agricultural production by crop disease and insect pest transmission caused by meteorological extreme events.