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New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research

ISSN: 0028-8233 (Print) 1175-8775 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tnza20

A GIS‐based expert system for pastoral

agricultural development in Gansu Province, PR

Liang Tiangang , Chen Quangong , Ren Jizhou & Wang Yuansu

To cite this article: Liang Tiangang , Chen Quangong , Ren Jizhou & Wang Yuansu (2004) A
GIS‐based expert system for pastoral agricultural development in Gansu Province, PR China, New
Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 47:3, 313-325, DOI: 10.1080/00288233.2004.9513600

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00288233.2004.9513600

Published online: 17 Mar 2010.

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New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47: 313-325 313
0028-8233/04/4703-0313 © The Royal Society of New Zealand 2004

A GIS-based expert system for pastoral agricultural development

in Gansu Province, PR China

LIANG TIANGANG include: spatial database query, knowledge base

CHEN QUANGONG* query, model base query, turf establishment advice,
Global Positioning System (GPS) based information,
REN JIZHOU China's pastoral agriculture database (used for con-
Key Laboratory of Grassland Agro-ecosystem sultation on suitability of cultivated grasses, leg-
Ministry of Agriculture umes, and herbs for the whole of China), literature
College of Pastoral Agriculture Science search, and system maintenance. The system pro-
and Technology vides the answers to users' questions related to grass-
Lanzhou University land management and pastoral agriculture
Lanzhou City development in the following main areas: (i) loca-
730020, PR China tion of a particular area of interest, (ii) natural con-
WANG YUANSU ditions and resource base of different areas, (iii)
Department of Grassland Science suitability of introduced and local grassland species
for different geographic areas, and (iv) suitable
Gansu Agricultural University
management strategies for pastoral agriculture de-
Lanzhou City, 730070, PR China velopment. The expert system software is a useful
tool for land managers, agricultural technicians,
environmental specialists, teachers, students, policy
Abstract This paper describes the research meth- makers, land administrators and for practical advice
ods, basic design, contents and structure of database, to land users. It has an important role in improving
model base, knowledge base and major functions of environmental conditions and pastoral agriculture in
an expert system for Gansu Pastoral Agricultural Gansu Province and western China.
Development (GPAD). The system, created at
Lanzhou University, can show users the knowledge,
experience, and techniques accumulated by pasto- Keywords pastoral agricultural development;
ral agriculture specialists, both in theory and prac- expert system; geographic information system;
tice over many years. This is achieved using remote sensing
multimedia information (e.g., text, graphics, pic-
tures, and video), as well as expert system, network,
Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote INTRODUCTION
sensing (RS) technologies. The system includes 19
spatial databases related to agricultural resources and Expert systems (ES) emerged in the mid 1960s as a
ecological environments, and 540 images of grass- part of the artificial intelligence (AI) technology that
land species and grassland landscapes. It is com- stepped onto the commercial stage. At the beginning
posed of five major modules including cultivation of the 1970s, expert systems adapted for agriculture
of productive or ecologically important grasses and were developed for cropping, horticulture, livestock
legumes, adaptability of cultivated species, vegeta- management, plant protection, and economic deci-
tion classification, diagnosis of the disease, and sion making (Mckinion & Lemmon 1985;
management strategy. The eight assistant modules Doluschitz & Schmisseur 1988; Shi Chunyi et al.
2000). However, in the management and utilisation
of grassland resources, their use has been limited
(Wu Quanyuan & Liu Jiangning 1995; Shi Chunyi
*Author for correspondence. Email: chenqg@lzu.edu.cn et al. 2000). The ES for grassland management de-
A03021; Online publication date 17 August 2004 veloped in Gansu integrates the accumulated knowl-
Received 2 April 2003; accepted 16 January 2004 edge, experience and techniques, which can be used
314 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

for economically and ecologically sustainable grass- Gansu Province is located on the conjunction of
land management (Ren Jizhou et al. 2001). In the ES Loess Plateau, Inner Mongolia Plateau, and Qinghai-
developed in Gansu, professional knowledge is de- Tibetan Plateau. It has harsh natural conditions and
livered on the administrative level of a province, a complicated social structure. Increased population
county, and township/village. It can answer the ques- pressures and intensive grazing coupled with the
tions relevant to grassland development, such as vulnerable, arid, high altitude environment has re-
regional suitability for particular development, the sulted in a number of ecological problems includ-
most suitable plant species, and pest management ing widespread soil erosion and deterioration of
including rodent and weed control. The research and grasslands (Guo Zhenggang et al. 2003). Although
programming of an ES described in this paper is the province has launched the implementation of the
useful for managers, producers and decision mak- national policy of returning cropland into forest and
ers to solve existing problems, and guide ecologi- grassland in recent years, there are still many cru-
cally sustainable use of grassland resources in cial problems that need to be solved both in theory
western China and help with the implementation of and practice (Ren Jizhou et al. 2001; Liang Tiangang
the national program of "Returning steep croplands et al. 2002). In 2000, the Gansu Agricultural Com-
into forests and grasslands" (Ren Jizhou et al. 2001). mittee set up a special fund for development of an
The Government of the People's Republic of "Expert System for Gansu Pastoral Agriculture
China (GOPRC) is aware of the need for a stable Development (GPAD)", which has been undertaken
ecological environment to provide the basis for sus- by the College of Pastoral Agriculture Science and
tainable economic and social development. Since Technology of Lanzhou University. By the end of
implementing economic reforms in the late 1970s, 2001, the first version of the ES software was fin-
the Government has launched a series of ecological ished, and distributed to many pastoral agriculture
programs such as the "Three North" Shelterbelt specialists and grassland management agencies for
development program, shelterbelt development pro- comments in order to increase accuracy and useful-
gram along the Upper and Middle Reaches of the ness of incorporated information. The second ver-
Yangtze River, and programs for integrated control sion of the software was formally published and
of soil and water erosion along the seven major riv- distributed by the Chinese Publishing House of Elec-
ers including the Yellow River and Yangtze River. tronics Industry in August 2003 after revising and
However, despite these efforts, the ecological con- updating the first version. This paper provides po-
dition in the middle and upper reaches of these riv- tential users with information on research methods,
ers remains fragile, and the trend of environmental design, and main functions of this improved version
degradation continues. This directly affects millions of the expert system software for GPAD.
of people in these areas who depend on the river for
irrigation water, in industry, and for domestic con-
sumption. Accordingly, the government has deter-
mined that by 2010, the highest priority for national
eco-environmental improvement will be in the up- RESEARCH METHODS AND
per and middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow TECHNOLOGY
Rivers and has designated these as key areas. In order Structure of the spatial database
to achieve this objective, the GOPRC started the
National Cropland Conversion Program (NCCP) The basic spatial database consists of a series of data
from 1999. The NCCP, concerned with 12 western related to pastoral agricultural science. It is based on
provinces mainly covering the areas of the upper and the Geographic Information System (GIS) within
middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, which spatial and non-spatial data are related to each
which includes the whole of Gansu Province, focuses other. In pastoral agriculture, specific knowledge and
on conversion of cultivated land on steep slopes back technical information is usually related to a particu-
to grassland and forest, integrated control of water lar location with distinct geographic and environ-
and soil erosion, development of sustainable forestry mental characteristics. In the ES this type of
and grassland management, development of sustain- information is extended to other areas with similar
able horticulture, animal husbandry and processing characteristics. Typically, variation of natural envi-
industries for agricultural products to alleviate pov- ronments and impact of land management results in
erty and enhance prosperity of local farmers (Ren a significant spatial variation, which requires a great
Jizhou 2000; Ren Jizhou et al. 2001). deal of support by background spatial databases
(Ritchie 1989; Liang Tiangang et al. 2002).
Liang Tiangang et al.—Expert system for pastoral agricultural development 315

Construction of basic GIS database: Results from analysis of GIS

1) Digital elevation model (DEM) 1. Algebra calculation
2) Rainfall spatial database (Vector) 11) Slope spatial database
3) Cumulative temperature spatial 12) Aspect spatial database

GIS 4) Natural grassland type spatial 2. Interpolation analysis

technology database 13) Rainfall spatial database (GRID)
(Arc/Info 5) Soil type spatial database 14) Cumulative temperature spatial
software) 6) Soil nutrient (N P K) spatial database (GRID)
7) Soil organic matter 3. Overlay analysis
8) Administrative region 15) Humidity index spatial database
9) Herbage regionalisation 16) Vegetation classification spatial
10) Ecological economy classification database

GIS database management system:

1) Administration region (at township/village, county, region and province levels)

ArcView 2) Topography (DEM, slope, aspect)
3) Climate (rainfall, temperature, cumulative temperature and humidity index)
4) Soil (N, P, K, organic matter and soil type)
5) Vegetation (grassland type, natural vegetation classitlcation type)
6) Herbage regionalisation
7) Ecological economy classification for pastoral agriculture

Fig. 1 Procedures of establishing Geographic Information System (GIS) database analysis and management system.

In this study, in addition to the existing relational types spatial distribution database based on the
databases of relevant domains like pasture 1:500 000 scale inventory map, in accordance with
agronomy, physiology, and ecology, new spatial the National Grassland Investigation Classification
databases covering the whole province were created System (Su Daxue 1997). For some of the counties
using ARC/INFO GIS software (ESRI Inc. 2001) and townships/villages with severe ecological prob-
(Fig. 1). The spatial database consists of five types lems, the more detailed terrain, soil, and land use
of databases, comprising: 1) Administrative regions maps at the scale of 1:50 000 were used to create
database providing spatial information at three lev- databases by GIS and remote sensing (RS) technolo-
els (region, county, and township/village); 2) Mete- gies (Liang Tiangang et al. 2002).
orological database created from records collected
over 30 years (1961-90) at 550 meteorological sta- Analysis of the spatial database
tions. It includes the spatial database of rainfall, Spatial databases are important components of the
cumulative temperature, and humidity; 3) Soil da- ES for GPAD. Analysis of the spatial database is
tabase consisting of a map of soil types and indi- performed using GIS or the image processing soft-
vidual maps representing content of nitrogen, ware. The analysis involves integration of spatial
phosphorous, potassium, and soil organic matter— data layers, extensive manipulation, and simulation
all these maps are at the scale of 1:500 000; 4) Topo- modelling. In the process of spatial analysis, new
graphic database, including the Digital Elevation information is generated by means of spatial inter-
Model (DEM) database generated from terrain con- pretation, spatial overlay analysis of the vector da-
tour maps at a scale of 1:250 000; and 5) Grassland tabase, and algebraic calculation method of the raster
316 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

database (Huang Bo & Wang Yingjie 1996; Gong databases and attribute information at sampling lo-
Jianya 2001). The examples of information gener- calities for helping image interpretation based on
ated through the spatial analysis include the devel- GIS and GPS technologies, coupled with field inves-
opment of the aspect and slope databases using DEM tigation; and 3) Calculating the area and spatial dis-
database, the grid-based spatial database (grid cell tribution of steep cropland by overlay analysis using
size is 1 x 1 km for region and county level, and the land use database and the slope spatial database
100 x 100 m for township/village level) of average generated by the DEM from a terrain map at 1:5000
annual temperature and precipitation created by spa- scale. Generating the database of the spatial distri-
tial interpolation analysis, and the natural vegetation bution of steep cropland, using the above procedure,
classification databases prepared by analysing grid has a significant effect on the decision-making
rainfall and temperature databases, following the and practical implementation of the program for re-
Ren-Hu theory (Ren Jizhou 1995; Hu Zizhi 1997) turning steep croplands into forests and grasslands
(Fig. 1) . (Fig. 2).

Integrated application of RS, GIS, and GPS Knowledge base

technologies In the ES for GPAD the knowledge base is organ-
The aim was to create software that would integrate ised in the form of the rules, hypertext, relational tree
available knowledge and technology to be used for and process databases. The rules based on the IF-
reversing land degradation and initiating sustainable THEN principle expresses the experience knowl-
grassland management. The most important impli- edge. Hypertext involves common text, graphs,
cation of this information is related to the National pictures, video, and audio information. The ES can
Cropland Conversion Program. Criteria for imple- comprehensively display the consultative results,
mentation of this program have been developed at inferred conclusions and relevant domain knowledge
the provincial and county levels, covering a variety to the users by the mode of a vivid graphical user
of geographic and environmental conditions. Appli- interface. The process database is expressed by re-
cation at the county and township/village level re- lational tree and mathematic models (Hochman et al.
quires much more detailed criteria considering local 1991; Park & Wilkins 1992; Du Yunyan et al. 2002).
geography, ecology, and impact of management on The knowledge base is the core of the ES for
land resources. In order to achieve this, an integrated GPAD. It consists of three main areas of subjects
use of RS, GIS, and Global Positioning System including natural grassland resources, cultivated
(GPS) technologies was needed. Combination of pasture species, and grassland protection. These are
these technologies considerably enhances the visual classified into seven categories:
appreciation and inference of traditional expert sys- 1) Vegetation classification knowledge base. There
tems. It also makes it possible to deal with dynamic are two classification systems employed to create the
and variable features on spatial and temporal scales. vegetation type knowledge base: the National Grass-
In the course of land conversion planning, the most land Resources Investigation Classification System
important issue is to define the location and spatial (NGRIC) and the Natural Vegetation Classification
distribution of the steep croplands. In Gansu Prov- System (NVC). The NGRIC (Su Daxue 1997), based
ince this involved 87 counties and nearly 1500 town- on field investigation of soil, terrain, climate and
ships/villages where this distribution has been vegetation, is a type of inventory classification
identified in terms of the national land conversion within which a great deal of grassland information
standards (Liang Tiangang et al. 2002). In this study, has been organised by class name, group name, type
the spatial distribution of steep cropland was calcu- name, classification coding, grassland condition,
lated using RS and GIS technologies for the areas areas available for grazing, productivity (fresh yield,
with severe environmental problems. Figure 2 de- carrying capacity), dominant species, and sub-domi-
picts the technical procedure consisting of three nant species and their characteristics. The NVC (Ren
steps: 1) Processing satellite images (Landsat TM Jizhou 1995) is based on data for rainfall and tem-
and SPOT data) using ERDAS (Earth Resources perature, and provides information on all types of
Data Analysis System) IMAGINE software to pro- vegetation including grasslands, forest, wetlands,
duce a geographic referenced image of land use; 2) etc., in their natural condition. According to the Ren-
Creating a spatial database including land use, soil Hu theory, the vegetation in China is classified into
type, soil erosion, economic forest distribution, 48 types in terms of mean annual precipitation and
county and township/village boundaries, DEM humidity index (Ren Jizhou 1995; Hu Zizhi 1997).
Liang Tiangang et al.—Expert system for pastoral agricultural development 317

Satellite image processing Database for image interpretation

1) Image geometric rectification 1) Land use
2) Image spatial registration 2) Soil type and soil erosion
3) Image enhancement 3) Economic forest distribution
RS 4) Image fusing processing 4) Administrative region
technology 5) Image clipping processing 5) Attribute information at GIS and GPS
(ERDAS 6) Image classification sampling localities technologies
software) 7) Image interpretation 6) DEM

Study results:
1) Interpretation of present arable land distribution
2) Calculation of slope database for arable land
3) Calculation of area of arable land at different slope levels using DEM
and slope database
4) Mapping for conversion cropland in different administrative regions

Fig. 2 Flowchart of analysing the spatial distribution of steep croplands using Geographic Information System (GIS),
remote sensing (RS), and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies. DEM, Digital Elevation Model; ERDAS,
Earth Resources Data Analysis System.

In the vegetation classification knowledge base, each 4) Herbage disease management knowledge base.
vegetation type is recorded by a type name and type This records the names, symptoms, manifestation
code associated with information on climatic con- characteristics, mechanisms of spread, character of
dition, soil type, dominant species, and suitable live- damage they cause, and control methods for 110
stock types. A picture of a characteristic landscape common diseases related to the herbage species used
is also provided. for cultivation.
2) Herbage regionalisation knowledge base. In this 5) Herbage insect control knowledge base. It in-
knowledge base, based on simulation and field in- cludes 38 insect species, organised by the fields of
vestigation, information on suitable herbage species, their scientific and common names, appearance,
climatic conditions, soil types, and topographic fea- behaviour, distribution pattern, damage they cause,
tures for nearly 1500 townships/villages is assem- and control methods.
bled. Herbage refers to grasses, forbs, shrubs, and 6) Rodents control knowledge base. It includes 50
legumes introduced or originally grown in China. It rodent species with pictures, biological characteris-
does not include cereal or root crops. tics, distribution pattern, and control methods.
3) Herbage characteristics knowledge base. It in- 7) Weed control knowledge base. It involves 45
cludes more than 50 herbage species, organised by weeds with pictures, biological characteristics, dis-
scientific name, origin, distribution, morphological tribution pattern, and control methods (Hochman et
features, biological characteristics, utilisation value al. 1991; Wang Xi et al. 1991; Ren Jizhou et al.
(yields, years of potential productivity, re-growing 2001).
ability, nutrition status, ecological function),
cultivating techniques (cultivation, topdressing, Model base
and field management), and disease and insect In recent years much progress has been made in the
management. development of computer models that integrate
318 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

User Interface

• * .
Intel •preter


Jr^~—"" ^ < ^~~~~~~~~~~~~~~± \ •

Database Knowledge base Model base Inference engine

Data analysis and query

>t >
Data input / output ,t Storage unit

Fig. 3 Basic structure of the expert systems for pastoral agricultural development.

ecological and biological theories and principles to components and showing in a model how these are
provide simulations of natural resource system re- integrated in a functioning system. Simulation mod-
sponses. New concepts and techniques developed in els allow incorporation of the dynamics of changes
the fields of artificial intelligence, GIS, and RS of- into an expert system. The ES for GPAD includes
fer the opportunity to develop expert system com- four simulation models based on existing experience
puter programs to assist resource managers in the use and latest research findings:
of complex models that simulate and monitor natu- 1) The NVC model, which utilises ecological under-
ral resource systems (Ritchie 1989; Stout 1994; standing included in the natural vegetation classifi-
Kreuter et al. 1996; Moor et al. 1997; Hill et al. cation in China. This classification itself is a
1999). Information provided by ES, based on GIS simulation model which is the ES for GPAD trans-
and RS technologies, have the potential to dramati-
formed into a digital form. Each type in this classi-
cally improve land-use planning and monitoring of
fication system relates to a substantial amount of the
grassland resources, and make it easier to integrate
attribute data, such as the biological properties of
model simulation, observational data, and the knowl-
ecosystems and physical environment, vegetation
edge of experts to help grassland resource manage-
ment agencies and land users make better decisions. composition, dominant plant species, and grazing
Expert systems often take the form of "rule + management (Ren Jizhou 1995; Hu Zizhi 1997).
model" to infer, identify, and assess problems. This 2) Cultivated species growth model, is used to simu-
form is especially useful to resolve the problems late the growth processes, properties at different
existing in pastoral agriculture and address changes growth stages, and relationships between yield, com-
at spatial and temporal scales (Liang Tiangang et al. position, soil nutrients, and seedling sowing density
2002). Simulation is recognised as a method that (Ren Jizhou 1998).
helps better understanding of the complex natural 3) Spatial variation models of environmental fac-
systems through identification of their major tors (e.g., rainfall, temperature) are used to create
Liang Tiangang et al.—Expert system for pastoral agricultural development 319

Fig. 4 Flowchart for study on the

Results from GIS &
expert system for pastoral agricul- RS technologies > Spatial Database
ture development. ES, expert sys-
tem; GIS, Geographic Information t
System; GPS, Global Positioning
System; NVC, National Vegeta- Model base Procedures of ES
tion Classification System. reasoning & analysing
knowledge >
K n o w l e d g e base

Computer Systematic
programming integration

GIS and Internet ES software for ES software for

technologies Windows OS Network

Functions of the Expert System

I) Model base query 2) Knowledge base query
3) Database query 4) Herbage cultivation
5) Herbage regionalisation 6) Disease diagnosis
7) Management strategy 8) Turf establishment
9) Literature search 10) GPS
I1) NVC consultation 12) System maintenance
13) China's pastoral agriculture

grid-based data layers of climatic factors as input of experts (model developers) would take in mak-
parameters for estimating and simulating species ing decisions. Thus, ES is a technology to extend the
suitability for different environments and their expert knowledge of the model developers to assist
growth (Liang Tiangang et al. 1999; 2000). the resource manager in the application of a specific
4) Regional suitability model of cultivated species simulation model. Expert systems are also a poten-
is a spatial distribution model using cell-based data tial way to extend the field knowledge of a good
to identify the areas suitable for growing different resource manager to aid other resource managers,
species. During this process the following factors are and even to assist a model developer in improving
taken into consideration: range of elevation, average model performance and applicability (Karp &
annual rainfall, average annual temperature, cumu- Wilkins 1989; Ritchie 1989; Park & Wilkins 1992).
lative temperature, extreme maximum temperature, A traditional ES is usually a knowledge-based com-
extreme minimum temperature, annual humidity, puter software that can answer a series of questions
frost-free days, and sunshine hours (Ren Jizhou related to a specific subject by inference on the ba-
1998; Liang Tiangang et al. 2001a). These models sis of a large body of accumulated knowledge and
are designed to simulate and find relationships be- experience (Plant 1989; Gillard et al. 1997; Hill et
tween the physical environment and biological proc- al. 1999). The ES for GPAD, coupled with GIS, RS,
esses that are important in the utilisation and and GPS technologies, consists of knowledge base,
management of converted croplands. database, model base, inference engine, working
storage, and interpreter (Fig. 3). The knowledge base
Programming of the expert system is fundamental to the system operation which pre-
Expert systems are computer programs designed to serves a great deal of professional knowledge of
simulate the course of action that an expert or a group relevant domains; the database, which consists of the
320 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

relational database and the spatial database, mainly through multiple map layers, and to display data
stores experimental and observational data used in using classifications, graduated symbols, and label-
spatial calculating and analysing. This improved ES ling. MapObjects LT allows access to various spa-
based on spatial data is more suitable for solving tial data formats ranging from standard GIS formats
complicated problems related to grassland environ- (ARC/INFO coverages and ESRI shape files) to
ment characterised by variations in space and time. CAD formats (DXF, DWG, and DGN), as well as a
The model base stores the four types of mathematic variety of image formats, including MrSID.
models including the NVC model, cultivated species MapObjects LT is also a collection of components
growth model, spatial variation models of environ- for application developers, consisting of an ActiveX
mental factors, and regional suitability model of control (OCX) and other programmable ActiveX
cultivated species. The working storage temporar- automation objects (ESRI Inc. 2002). By means of
ily stores original facts, inference results or empiri- the combination of VB 6.0 and MapObjects LT 2.0,
cal knowledge, as well as final conclusions. The it became possible to integrate relevant knowledge
inference engine is a computer procedure that can and spatial data layers created by GIS and RS soft-
reason and calculate according to the original facts ware into the ES for GPAD. With the capabilities of
contained in the working storage, search for related managing spatial and attribute data, the ES for
knowledge from the knowledge base, input the in- GPAD represents a powerful tool for inference at
ferred results into the work storage, and deduct and cell-based levels, which is useful for planning and
calculate the known facts and the inferred results regionalisation of pastoral agriculture resources.
repeatedly until a conclusion is reached; the inter-
preter is used for recording the deductive directory The major functions of the expert system
in order to make searching more convenient for us-
ers (Liang Tiangang et al. 2002). Figure 3 depicts Herbage cultivation consultation module
the basic structure of the expert system. By the use of this module, the natural environment
The inference processes of the ES are usually conditions (e.g., terrain, climate, soil, vegetation,
based on the accumulated knowledge and specific etc.) and herbage species recommended for a par-
mathematical formulae. Especially in those ques- ticular location can be identified and shown to the
tions related to the spatial distribution planning and users by either point or polygon mode. Point mode
regionalisation, ES depends heavily on the spatial allows a user to access information about natural and
databases (e.g., DEM, land use, etc.) created by GIS, cultivated plant species and their physical environ-
RS, and GPS technologies. The development of an ments based on information available at the pixel
applicable and effective pastoral agriculture expert level. This makes the system capable of providing
system involves major production processes based the detailed information at any given point (e.g., lo-
on the interaction of soil, vegetations, and livestock. calities positioned by GPS). Polygon mode provides
Integration of GIS, RS, and GPS technologies re- the function for enquiring about an area of interest,
solves the spatial problem. such as any county or township/village in Gansu
The functions of the ES for GPAD are realised Province. The output results for both modes can be
by computer programming, with a user-friendly in- displayed in exploring windows of the system in the
terface being an important component. The program form of hypertext using information from a multi-
of the ES for GPAD consists of five major parts, layer spatial database and knowledge base produced
including menu bar, tools bar, browser content win- by inference. This provides the user with the elemen-
dow, browsing windows, and status bar. The main tary information on ecological environment and
menu includes file, view, strategy consultation, pas- potential cultivated species at a given point or within
toral agriculture information, system maintenance any administrative unit in Gansu Province.
and help. The strategy consultation menu includes This module was developed to ask a wide range
the modules of herbage cultivation, herbage region- of questions. For example it can be asked: What kind
alisation, NVC consultation, disease diagnosis, and of species are suitable for a given area? How should
management strategy consultation, etc., (Fig. 4). these species be cultivated? An example of the use
In our study, the ES for GPAD was developed by of the point mode is as follows. When a user selects
MS Visual Basic (VB 6.0), and MapObjects LT. This herbage cultivation consultation from the menu bar
provided a comprehensive collection of tools for or from the browser content window, the spatial
program developers to acquire information on map database of Gansu county level administrative unit
features, perform spatial queries, pan and zoom will be displayed in the exploring window. The user
Liang Tiangang et al.—Expert system for pastoral agricultural development 321

can enlarge, pan and choose a county from this map. herbage regionalisation module is developed to ask
Thus, the county level administrative electronic map questions regarding the cell-based spatial distribu-
with township/village boundary and locality names tion of areas suitable for cultivation of given herb-
will be displayed as the default top layer, and from age species. When the user selects a species name
this map a township/village can be selected. When from the explorer content window, the areas suitable
any spot on the map is pointed to, the following in- for cultivation of given species appear on the scale
formation will be revealed from database and knowl- of the whole province. This is achieved by the means
edge base by inference: 1) Location (locality name, of calculation and inference, and can be displayed
longitude and latitude); 2) Climate conditions (with in the explorer window at the Gansu township/vil-
details of rainfall, temperature, etc.); 3) Topography lage level administrative map based on cells with
(elevation, aspect and slope); 4) Soil condition (type, locality names. This module can provide Gansu
content of P, K, N, and organic matter); 5) Grass- governments and pastoral agriculture development
land type and NVC categories; 6) The name list of enterprises with information about the regional suit-
cultivated species which can live at the site; and 7) ability of cultivated species and support their deci-
Plant species recommended as the most suitable for sion making.
growing on the particular site.
If the species name in items 6) or 7) is clicked on, Natural vegetation classification consultation
then the following information will be displayed: 1) module
Characteristics of individual species, advice on cul- In a point or polygon mode using the NVC model
tivation and harvest, possible pests and diseases, etc.; and the cell-based spatial data layers of rainfall and
and 2) if a pest/disease name is clicked on, further temperature, it is possible to show the user a theo-
information, such as diagrams of the pest/disease and retically ideal environmental condition as this would
control measures, etc., will be displayed. be in the absence of human influence, including the
In the polygon mode, the system can also provide absence of grazing by domestic animals. A series of
comprehensive consultations on the terrain, climate, pictures is used to show the character of a natural
soil, and natural grassland types from the spatial ecosystem with a particular vegetation type defined
databases, as well as consultation suggestions ac- by dominant species and typical landscape features.
cording to the model base and knowledge base for By comparing this ideal condition with the present
the recommended cultivated species, and the control condition, it is possible to determine the level of
methods of possible diseases, insects, rodents, and environmental degradation at any chosen location.
weeds of the selected species for a county or town- The NVC system takes account of vegetation suc-
ship/village. In addition to the above information, the cession, which includes information on causes of
social and economic information in 2001 could be degradation. With the use of comparative analysis
displayed. of an existing and ideal condition it is possible to
determine for a given point or area whether the eco-
Herbage regionalisation module logical environment is deteriorating and to what
In this module the regional suitability of 20 major degree. This is important for development of strate-
cultivated pastoral species, including Medicago gies for environmental rehabilitation and sustainable
sativa, Trifolium pratense, Loliumperenne, Festuca management of vegetation resources. In the 1960s,
sinensis, Phleum pratense, Sorghum vulgare, the method for generating the NVC system was put
Onobrychis viciaefolia, Coronilla varia, Caragana forward as a general principle applicable anywhere
intermedia, Agropyron cristatum, Melilotus albus, in the world. In this system, grasslands in any place
Astragalus adsurgens, Artemisia sphaerocephala, in China can be classified into one of 48 types. Ta-
Elymus sibiricus, and Elymus nutans is simulated ble 1 shows the classification rules (Ren Jizhou
using the regional suitability models and cell-based 1995; Hu Zizhi 1997). Each vegetation type is de-
climatic data layers covering the whole Gansu Prov- termined by local mean annual rainfall (r) and hu-
ince (Liang Tiangang et al. 2001a). midity index (k) calculated by the following
This module differs from the herbage cultivation
consultation module in the output display method £ = r/(0.1xS9)
and content. The herbage cultivation consultation Where, EG is the average annual cumulative tem-
module only shows what kinds of fodder species are perature over 0°C.
suitable for cultivation in a particular spot or in an In our software this principle is used through the
area (e.g., county, township/village). However, the NVC consultation module to determine level of land
322 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

degradation at any spot within the whole province. used in the traditional expert system inference ap-
Our study showed that there are 31 vegetation types proach (Wang Shuying et al. 2001).
in Gansu Province, and 48 categories in China
(Liang Tiangang et al. 2001b,c). Grassland management strategy consultation
Disease diagnosis module This module is concerned with management of ag-
Gansu is one of the 12 western provinces where, ricultural grasslands established by sowing. It is
under the National Cropland Conversion Policy, a designed to provide a user with information on
large proportion of steep croplands is being returned management under the following five sub-modules:
into grasslands by sowing productive grass species 1) Recommendations prior to sowing, which in-
and legumes such as lucerne. These newly estab- cludes information about selected cultivars, sowing
lished grasslands frequently suffer from diseases time, sowing density, fertiliser, and prediction of
(Wang Shuying et al. 2001). The ES for GPAD in- yield; 2) Management decision making before win-
cludes a module enabling the user to diagnose 15 of ter, including cutting, irrigation, fertilising, seed
the most common diseases affecting agricultural harvest, stubble height for various crop species; 3)
grasslands in Gansu Province. The disease diagno- Management measures for a growing period, in-
sis process includes the following optional items: 1) volves irrigation, fertilising, weeding, cutting, etc.;
A part of the plant affected by disease (e.g., leaf, leaf 4) Control methods of diseases, pests, rodents, and
bud, leafstalk, stem, and root); 2) the size, shape, and weeds; and 5) Crop processing technology and eco-
colour of pathologic spots; 3) the simple depiction nomic benefit analysis (Liang Tiangang et al. 2002).
of typical symptoms; 4) a series of typical pictures In addition to the above five major modules, the
at varied stages; 5) the detailed information of dis- ES for GPAD also provides other assistant modules,
ease; and 6) the control measures. Based on the which involve: 1) System maintenance, used to edit
above procedure, the system can make a quick di- the knowledge bases and model bases; 2) Three
agnosis and display the control measures commonly query modules, designed to query the knowledge

Table 1 The natural vegetation types of the Natural Vegetation Classification System (NVC). The code of
vegetation type is depicted by the combination of character and number, and the bold code represents the vegetation
types existing in Gansu Province.

Humidity 0-0.28 0.28-0.85 0.85-1.18 1.18-1.45 1.45-1.82 >1.82

index (k)1 (k1) (k2) (k3) (k4) (k5) (k6)
Thermal grades (EG)2 Extrarid Arid Semi arid Sub-humid Humid Perhumid
0-1100(91) IA1 IB9 IC17 ID25 IE33 IF41
1100-1700(02) IIA2 IIB10 IC18 ID26 IE34 IIF42
Frigid temperate
1700-2300(03) IIIA3 IE35II IC19 IID27 IIE35 IIF43
Cold temperate
2300-3700(04) IVA4 IVB12 IVC20 IVD28 IVE36 IVF44
Cool temperate
3700-5000(05) VA5 VB13 VC21 VD29 VE37 VF45
Warm temperate
5000-7200(06) VIA6 VIB14 VIC22 VID30 VIE38 VIF46
7200-8000(07) VIIA7 VIIB15 VIIC23 VIID31 VIIE39 VIIF47

1k = r/(0.1 xE0) where r = mean annual rainfall.

£0 = average annual cumulative temperature over 0°C.
Liang Tiangang et al.—Expert system for pastoral agricultural development 323

bases, spatial databases, and model bases; 3) Turf of land managers to implement the national cropland
establishment and management module; 4) Litera- conversion program and achieving ecological reha-
ture search, designed to access a large number of bilitation of grasslands. By the use of this system
publications concerned with pastoral agriculture in managers and farmers can make practical decisions
China; 5) GPS module, provides an interface used on selection of suitable plant species for use in the
to import data from GPS devices to the ES for improvement and rehabilitation of grasslands. This
GPAD, and to create a polygon layer, which could software also provides advice on an appropriate
be used to define the areas of interest in the module grassland management, which can be used as a guide
of herbage cultivation consultation; and 6) China's in environmental rehabilitation, sustainable develop-
pastoral agriculture database, a module similar to the ment and utilisation of natural grasslands.
grass species cultivation consultation module, but There is a strong demand for modern scientific
used for the whole of China. This last module can research to introduce new technical measures and
provide a user with the information related to the ideas to accomplish the task of information integra-
NVC types, cultivated species and turf species suit- tion. This particularly applies in grassland ecology
able for cultivation according to inventory data lay- where the interactions and relationships between
ers at a point mode. It is planned to add more environment and species have always been the main
information into this module in an updated version component. Traditional methods can provide eco-
of ES for GPAD. logical information on individual species or vegeta-
tion types, but there has always been a problem with
simultaneous consideration of multiple factors re-
garding vegetation, physical environment and man-
DISCUSSION agement, development of site specific information,
The integration of multiple subjects and techniques and making this information available in an accept-
is the distinguishing feature of the development of able form to land managers. Lack of routine and easy
science and technology in the new century. Remote to use methods for generating and using ecological
sensing data provide information on the earth's sur- information in practice has been a major impediment
face at a given area and in time, which is the source in development of sustainable land management.
of data for building dynamic spatial databases. GIS The introduction of ES, GIS, and multimedia
technology provides the capability of overlaying, technologies have brought about a revolution in
integrating, and analysing spatial data, often assem- grassland ecological research leading to more com-
bled from a wide variety of sources. In the last 30 prehensive, deep and systematic studies. Combina-
years, this technology has expanded rapidly and tion of GIS and multimedia technologies allowed
found a home in a number of new applications, es- transformation of complex ecological information
pecially in environmental assessments and planning, into a spatial visual level, in which form it is acces-
natural resource management, ecological research, sible at a site-specific level for use in sustainable land
and much more (Li Jianlong et al. 1998; Liang management. The ES for GPAD is one of the useful
Tiangang et al. 2002). Expert systems, coupled with attempts to realise the visualisation of information
RS and GIS technologies, provide an opportunity for in the domain of digital pastoral agriculture through
understanding and analysing many pressing issues combination of ecology and modern GIS/RS tech-
we face today, for example: pastoral agricultural nology in a comprehensive expert system where
development, grassland degradation, tropical defor- expert knowledge is accessible through a geographic
estation, and the impact of global climate change. framework.
The ES for GPAD employs GIS, RS, and GPS tech- From the use of the ES for GPAD in practice for
nologies, integrated spatial data, attribute data, pic- nearly 2 years, the following issues were found in
tures, and hypertext. It combined many subjects the first version of the software and partly also in the
including computer programming, geosciences, updated published software:
agronomy, and ecology. It is a powerful tool for (1) Due to the differences in scales of the original
information consultation, queries, and inference. In maps, some compromises needed to be made in
2001, this software developed in the College of Pas- preparation of the spatial database. It is difficult to
toral Agriculture Science and Technology of make all spatial data layers from thematic maps have
Lanzhou University was distributed with the assist- the same scale in an area. In our research, the maps
ance of the Gansu Agricultural Committee to every used to create the spatial database and integration
county in Gansu, with the aim of building capacity analyses were available at two map scales. One type
324 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2004, Vol. 47

was at a map scale of 1:250 000 and 1:500 000 at Marta Treskonova, an AusAID project adviser and land-
the provincial and regional level, respectively. The use planning specialist from New Zealand for helpful
other scale was from 1:10 000 to 1:50 000 at the revisions.
This research was supported by the Gansu Agricul-
county and township/village level. Considering tural Committee from 2000 to 2002, and also in part sup-
problems with the data availability, storage and ac- ported by the Key Laboratory of Grassland
cess, only some databases, for several counties and Agro-ecosystem Foundation Project, Ministry of Agricul-
townships/villages with severe ecological and envi- ture (CYZDSYS0307), and the National Key Basic Re-
ronmental issues, were created using the maps at search Special Foundation Project, Ministry of Science
1:50 000 scale. and Technology (2003BA901A20).
(2) GIS provides a framework within which spatial
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