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Information flow through diagnostic networks: understanding pepper disease risk in Florida

James Fulton: Plant Pathology Department, University of Florida

<div>The network of institutions in the United States' National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) has been designed for efficient communication. The network of information flow that links growers with NPDN institutions is key to the success of US diagnostic networks, but its structure is mostly uncharacterized. We surveyed Florida pepper stakeholders to parameterize a simulation of the likely response of the Florida pepper industry to the introduction of a new pathogen during its dispersal throughout the state. This simulation models pathogen dispersal to naïve areas as latently infected young transplants are transported throughout the state’s regional pepper production areas. A novel component of this research is a comparison of the effects of active farmer decision-making based on a range of theoretical farmer behavior. This integrated model incorporates information and risk uncertainty to evaluate the likely consequences of farmer management strategies. Behavioral modifications and differences between the efficacies of various management strategies then impact, to varying degrees, pathogen fitness and yield impacts. In this linked social and biological network analysis, our simulation integrates (a) emerging pathogen dispersal, (b) information dissemination among participants in the NPDN, local diagnostic networks, and industry stakeholders, and (c) host material transport. Initial analyses indicate the key role of hub communicators for linking farmers into the NPDN system.</div>