Science-based board games can help people grasp the ecological complexity of autonomous pest control (APC) in the shade-coffee agroecosystem. Azteca Chess is a board-game that captures in a stylized way the fascinating natural history and the dynamics of a complex network of direct, indirect and cascading trait-mediated interactions among five species of arthropods dwelling in shade coffee bushes (a coffee-scale, an ant, an adult and larval lady beetle, a parasitoid wasp and a parasitoid fly). In exchange for honey-dew, the Azteca ant protects scale-insects that help control the devastating coffee-rust disease. The ant repels the adult ladybeetle but inadvertently protects its larvae, which devour scales to local extinction. The head-hunting fly paralyzes Azteca and opens a window of opportunity for the adult beetle to oviposit under scales, but also for a parasitoid wasp to kill the beetle larvae. Interactions can cascade or not towards APC. Experimental test-driving shows Azteca Chess meets good modeling and game-design standards and is proved statistically to enhance understanding and application of relevant complex ecological processes.
Azteca chess: Gamifying a complex ecological process of autonomous pest control in shade coffee
Luis García-Barriosa, Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Volume 232, 16 September 2016, Pages 190–198