Capable of devastating agricultural and food security in over 60 countries worldwide, locust swarms threaten the livelihoods of over one-tenth of the world’s population. And now, there is reason to believe that figures may be on the rise. A recent study found that widespread nitrogen depletion in soil due to overgrazing might be key in causing solitary locusts to aggregate into swarms. The lower protein content of plants grown in nitrogen-depleted soil provides locusts with a carbohydrate-rich diet that stimulates swarm formation.
In response to the study and to growing concern over the threat that locusts pose to the global food supply, the National Science Foundation granted a team of six researchers $955,000 to investigate this phenomenon. One of these researchers is Eli Fenichel, Assistant Professor of Bioeconomics and Ecosystem Management at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Fenichel’s research lies at the intersection of economics and ecology. He plans to use mathematical modeling to explore the links between insect nutrition, national land rights policies, and livestock markets to evaluate countries’ abilities to respond to increasingly destructive swarms. “Overall, we want to connect ecological dynamics to people who respond to locust outbreaks and build models of the systems of the locust outbreaks as well as models of how people respond,” said Fenichel in an interview with the Yale Daily News.
Locust swarms will likely continue to pose a threat to agriculture worldwide. However, by collaborating with agricultural and agronomic organizations, the research team will use the insights they gain to develop more effective locust management strategies.
Cover Image: Swarms of locusts devastated Madagascar’s agribusiness last year. Image courtesy of The Guardian.