Indicators of environmentally sound land use in the humid tropics: The potential roles of expert opinion, knowledge engineering and knowledge discovery

C. Kampichler, S. Hernández-Daumás, S. Ochoa-Gaona, V. Geissen, E. Huerta-Lwanga, B.H. de Jong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Despite abundant literature on indicators for sustainable resource management, practical tools to help local users to apply its general concepts at a local to regional level are scarce. This means that decisions over land evaluation and land use at a local level are often not based on the formal application of indicators or decision support systems for environmentally sound management but instead on the opinion of local expertise, for instance forest managers, cattle breeders, farmers and/or academics. This is particularly seen to be the case in the tropics where access to modern communication and information technologies is restricted. As the opinions of experts are often based on and influenced by personal experience, intuition, heuristics and bias, their evaluations and decision are often unclear to the non-expert working at a local level. In order to make their reasoning more comprehensible to the non-expert, the ecological condition of 176 plots in the tropical Southeast of Mexico were evaluated by experts on soil fertility, forest management, cattle breeding and agriculture. With the assistance of a knowledge engineer (one who converts expert knowledge and reasoning into a model), these expert opinions and reasoning were then translated into a formal computer model. As an alternative approach we applied a knowledge discovery technique, namely the induction of regression trees and automatically developed models using the expert evaluations as training data. Where knowledge engineering was tedious and time consuming, regression models could be rapidly generated. Moreover, the correspondence between regression trees and expert opinions was considerably higher than the correspondence between expert opinion and their own models. The regression trees used less explicative variables than the models generated by the experts. The minimisation of sampling effort due to variable space reduction means that the application of regression tree induction has a high potential for a rapid development of indicators for narrowly defined ecological assessments, needed for decision making on a local or regional scale
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-329
JournalEcological Indicators
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • machine learning techniques
  • regression trees
  • fuzzy-logic
  • habitat
  • induction
  • level

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