Experimentation has been the cornerstone of much of integrated pest management (IPM) research. Here, we aim to open a discussion on the possible merits of expanding the use of observational studies, and in particular the use of data from farmers or private pest management consultants in “ecoinformatics” studies, as tools that might complement traditional, experimental research. The manifold advantages of experimentation are widely appreciated: experiments provide definitive inferences regarding causal relationships between key variables, can produce uniform and high-quality data sets, and are highly flexible in the treatments that can be evaluated. Perhaps less widely considered, however, are the possible disadvantages of experimental research. Using the yield-impact study to focus the discussion, we address some reasons why observational or ecoinformatics approaches might be attractive as complements to experimentation. A survey of the literature suggests that many contemporary yield-impact studies lack sufficient statistical power to resolve the small, but economically important, effects on crop yield that shape pest management decision-making by farmers. Ecoinformatics-based data sets can be substantially larger than experimental data sets and therefore hold out the promise of enhanced power. Ecoinformatics approaches also address problems at the spatial and temporal scales at which farming is conducted, can achieve higher levels of “external validity,” and can allow researchers to efficiently screen many variables during the initial, exploratory phases of research projects. Experimental, observational, and ecoinformatics-based approaches may, if used together, provide more efficient solutions to problems in pest management than can any single approach, used in isolation.
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Vol. 104 • No. 2