Agroecosystems are inherently complex, and practices aimed at managing one component of the system can have unintended consequences for other components of the system. Management decisions, therefore, can be improved by assessing and understanding the multivariate nature of agricultural systems and the multifunctional character of particular agricultural management practices. The act of simultaneously assessing and evaluating multiple characteristics or functions in agriculture also can be a valuable education and extension activity, because it draws on active and experiential methods of learning and because the process effectively reveals important functions and tradeoffs associated with agroecosystems and their management. Here we introduce a tool (the spider plot) and present a case-study exercise in which we used this tool to evaluate the multiple characteristics and functions of different cover crops within a field day workshop format. We also provide examples of how this approach could be used to assess other management practices or properties of agroecosystems and communicate multivariate concepts within a weed science classroom or extension environment.
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Vol. 25 • No. 4