NUS Researcher Yingwei speaks on How he used Smart Mapping Technology to Provide Cutting-Edge Food Security Solution

A global representation of pest species richness with climate change. Areas in red represent an increase in species richness, while blue represents a decrease in species richness. Credit: ESRI

A Singapore PhD student at NUS has found that pests are moving northward as climate change makes their natural habitats hotter. They are are also moving to higher altitudes. This means that in Asia, regions of North China, North India, Thailand, Russia will face an influx of pest invasions and are likely to see their pest populations increasing.

Yan Yingwei
Yan Yingwei

Yan Yingwei, a final year PhD student from the Department of Geography at NUS, used Esri Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – otherwise known as smart mapping technology – to analyse the impact of climate change on invasive crop pest species, and used crowdsourcing or user-generated content to analyse any pest invasion risks. 

Yan hopes that his findings will enable agricultural planners, government bodies, policy and decision-makers in countries such as China, Thailand and Russia to more easily identify and take preventive action against the growth of pest populations. His innovative use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – otherwise known as smart mapping technology – has earned him the 2016 Esri Young Scholar Award.

He will be attending the world’s largest spatial event – the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) in San Diego, California – and presenting his project to more than 15,000 spatial professionals from over 140 countries.

In an interview with Biotechin.Asia, Mr. Yan Yingwei spoke about his findings and its implications to countries, especially Singapore. 

Congratulations on winning the 2016 Esri Young Scholar Award! How does it feel? What is your background and how is this going to help you further your objectives?

I’m very excited to have been selected as a winner of the 2016 Esri Young Scholar Award. The award is prestigious and recognises the most inspiring GIS practices by tertiary students.

I am a Geography PhD student from the National University of Singapore, and have always had a strong interest in smart mapping and its capabilities.

Can you tell us more about how did you use GIS technology  to analyse the impact of climate change on invasive crop pest species?

I investigated 76 invasive crop pest species for my study, all of which were selected based on their economic importance or quarantine significance to major food and cash crops. I used GIS raster analysis tools, and ecological niche modelling with open sourced data to map out the movements of these pest species. This was done by taking into consideration their mobility habits and conditions necessary for survival with respect to climate change.

Does the data in it get updated in real time? 

Yes, it does. Citizen scientists are reporting their pest observations continuously.

How can this technology help mitigate the negative impact of pests on agriculture and help ensure food security in countries?

The results of my investigations stress the importance of crop-damaging organisms surveillance. Managing crop pest invasions as a result of climate change is crucial in mitigating the pertinent threats to global food security moving forward.

A global representation of pest species turnovers with climate change. Areas in red represent high species turnover, while yellow represents low species turnover. Credit: ESRI

According to the outcomes of my study:

  • Regions that are projected to undergo both increases in species richness and high species turnovers in the future should be the focus of invasive crop pest control. This includes high latitude countries such as the United States, and countries in Europe where agricultural productivities are high.
  • On the other hand, for regions with predicted reductions in pest species richness, the generally low species turnovers mean that crop pests will still be a threat to future agricultural productivity. Many developing countries are at low latitude regions, which are less capable of surveillance and controlling invasive pests. My investigations suggest that invasive crop pest species management in these regions remains important.
  • Lastly, it is difficult to scout pests at the early phase of their invasions. Given the limited financial resources and manpower, particularly in many remote and inaccessible rural areas, my study suggests that approaches to seek observations from the general public (citizen scientists) are very helpful. Involvement of the general public in pest surveillance allows for early detection of pest species invasions in a near real-time manner. Such an approach can be achieved using modern information and communication technology. Image recognition technology (through photo taking) can be developed for smartphone platforms to facilitate non-expert observers to identify pest species more accurately. Efficient information interactions among the general public, pest professionals, policy makers, and all other stakeholders will be beneficial to the management of pest invasions and therefore global food security.

What is the importance and relevance of this technology in the Singapore context?

Singapore needs to focus on dealing with countries with both predicted pest species richness and high species turnover (e.g., USA, Russia, China). This is because these countries will face more serious pest problems in the future, and will protect their own food security first.

What are your future plans with respect to this technology?

I would like to further explore the technology for collecting crop pest observation data from the general public, while maintaining the accuracy of data collection. This is so that we can better manage invasive crop pest species.

Read more about ESRI’s GIS Smart Mapping Technology here.