Addressing Challenges in Aggregating and Analyzing Agroecological Data

Sarah Elizabeth McCord, University of Texas at El Paso


Agroecosystems face multiple threats including land degradation and climate change, changing and competing land uses, invasive species and disease spread, and biodiversity loss. While scientists seek to understand rapidly changing ecosystems, land managers are struggling to maintain ecosystem services amid transitions to novel ecosystem states. Understanding agroecosystem drivers and ensuing responses requires quality information about ecosystems that span biomes, trophic scales, ecological processes, spatiotemporal scales, land use, and land ownership. Yet, using multi-scale agroecosystem information can be frustrating for both scientific researchers and land managers as it is difficult to locate data that are trustworthy, easily accessible, standardized, and connected to analytical tools. Consequently, we urgently need new approaches to agroecological data that leverages our current technological capabilities and disrupts conventional informatics practice and wisdom to improve linkages between science and managers as we seek to understand our rapidly changing ecosystems. In this dissertation, I explore how conceptual and cyberinfrastructure frameworks can assist both land managers and researchers in improving data quality and data access for management and modelling applications. I find that a cultural shift is needed in how we prevent and detect issues pertaining to data quality. A question driven approach can facilitate collaborative, iterative improvements in data quality. Collaborative development of frameworks to calculate agroecosystem indicators is necessary to ensure that software tools are relevant to managers and appropriate to describe ecosystem processes. Finally, I demonstrate how a data commons approach to data aggregation can facilitate data integration with models, other datasets, and decision support tools. I conclude the dissertation by addressing both the cultural and technological challenges of data integration and use and highlight how these are paramount to understanding and managing agroecosystems in the face of a changing climate.

Subject Area

Ecology|Computer science|Agriculture

Recommended Citation

McCord, Sarah Elizabeth, "Addressing Challenges in Aggregating and Analyzing Agroecological Data" (2021). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28490431.