The 2023 Symposium on Behavioral Plasticity was hosted by the talented students of the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI) on May 15th and 16th 2023 at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Attendees had the opportunity to hear from a series of excellent speakers who shared their research on behavioral plasticity, a field that examines the capacity of organisms to adapt and modify their behavior in response to environmental stimuli. The symposium was primarily attended by BPRI members from the core institutions —Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Washington University in St. Louis, and the USDA ARS— “friends of BPRI”, were also able to attend and share about their experiences working on plasticity in systems outside of locusts.
Agronomy special issue "Locust and Grasshopper Management: Environmental Impacts and New Perspectives" is now open for submission. For more information click here
In many countries around the world, locusts and grasshoppers are a threat to agriculture and livelihoods. One of the major problems in locust management is the use of chemical pesticides, rightly criticized for their side effects on human health, environment, nontarget organisms, and biodiversity. Alternatives that are more respectful of people and the environment have emerged over the past 20 years, with entomopathogenic fungi and Protozoa being the most promising to replace chemical pesticides. A lot of research has been done in particular in Africa (LUBILOSA project), Australia and China. Biopesticides are already used in some countries and commercial formulations are available. However, the use of these alternatives remains too limited. A new special Issue in the journal Agronomy will focus on the negative impacts of chemical pesticides in locust management, the most promising alternatives, the main obstacles to their diffusion and the best ways to overcome them.
Dr. Michel Lecoq
Prof. Dr. Long Zhang
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 28 February 2024
The Global Locust Initiative Lab team attended the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting in Vancouver November 12–16th, 2022, along with a great showing of fellow locust and grasshopper researchers, many of whom are students recently brought into the fold of locust research through the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI). Arizona State University’s Syeda Mehreen Tahir co-organized a member symposium with other BPRI students focused on phenotypic plasticity with nine live talks and five on-demand online presentations. The speakers covered topics from genetics to nutrition, coloration, and wing patterns, all in the context of phenotypic plasticity—the ability genotypes have to express different phenotypes when exposed to different conditions.
A new study by a research team from Arizona State University has found that climate change will dramatically increase the intensity of locust swarms, resulting in even more crops lost to insect pests and threatening food security.
The study, recently published in Ecological Monographs, outlines the results of considerable data gathered on the physiology of South American locusts, and demonstrates that species distribution models that consider physiology in addition to temperature may reshape what we can expect to see as climate change continues. ASU PhD Jacob Youngblood using a net to capture locusts in a field. Jacob Youngblood, recent ASU biology PhD graduate and first author on the study, uses a net to capture South American locusts. Photo courtesy of Jacob Youngblood
"One unique aspect of our study is that we combined many different research approaches, including field observations, laboratory experiments and computational modeling,” said Jacob Youngblood, recent ASU biology PhD graduate and first author on the study.
“To combine these approaches, we assembled a diverse team of researchers, which included physiologists, ecologists, entomologists and agriculturists. Collaborating with such a diverse team enabled us to study the effects of climate change on multiple aspects of locust biology."
The international team included researchers from ASU’s Global Locust Initiative: Assistant Professor Arianne Cease, President’s Professor Michael Angilletta and Professor Jon Harrison from the School of Life Sciences, and postdoc Stav Talal from the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, as well as innovators and collaborators in South America.
On May 20–21, 2022, Global Locust Initiative (GLI) team members traveled to Texas A&M University to participate in a successful launch event for the $12.5 million NSF-funded Biological Integration Institute: Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI). The BPRI is the first virtual institute of its kind, dedicated to studying all aspects of phenotypic plasticity. After the COVID-19 pandemic delayed in-person meetings, the event, called the “BPRI Bootcamp”, provided an excellent opportunity to network, workshop ideas, and explore the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the participants. The bootcamp brought together 38 faculty, staff, and students across Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Washington University in St. Louis, and the USDA ARS.
The phenomenon of a desert locust outbreak has long struck fear in the hearts of farmers and pastoralists. Swarms that obscure the sun and stretch for kilometers, can easily devour the hopes of a plentiful harvest. From late 2019 into 2022, the Greater Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of southwest Asia, experienced a severe desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) outbreak. Many of the 23 countries impacted had not seen an upsurge of this magnitude in decades. For Kenya, it was the worst in 70 years. In conjunction with other disasters like drought, flooding, armed conflict, and a pandemic, over 36 million people faced crisis-level food insecurity in locust-affected countries (as of May 2021). On March 2, 2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) officially declared the outbreak was over.
Q: When did you know you were interested in sustainability science?
Growing up I would make mini-documentaries illustrating my “wild” adventures in the iconic Sonoran Desert, in reality, it was just the wash behind my house, yet from then on, I knew I was fascinated by the natural world. This passion carried over into my college career, when I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability and now my Master’s degree. Sustainability is fascinating as it strives to solve wicked problems that span disciples, boundaries, governments, cultures, and so on. In this sense I never had to be tied down to one area of study, instead, I could learn about the abundance of topics that exist within sustainability.
Above-average rainfall across many parts of Southern Africa has allowed populations of the Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) to skyrocket. Initial outbreaks started in 2020 in the eastern and south-eastern Karoo, the region endemic to the Brown Locust. The usually arid Karoo has transformed into a lush oasis, causing South African farmers to trade the hardship of drought for the task of managing the worst outbreak in the last ten years.
Brown Locust outbreaks are a consistent natural phenomenon brought about by plentiful summer rains. Their outbreak zone covers approximately 250,000 km2 of the Karoo, extending out of South Africa into southern Namibia. In the past, plagues have developed that span the entire southern African sub-continent up to the Zambezi River. Periodic upsurges are known to spread further into Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and to a less documented extent, into Zambia, Mozambique, and Angola. To date, this current outbreak is primarily impacting South Africa and Namibia, with some 2021 reports in Botswana and Angola.
Student Focus Post: Written by students from the Global Locust Initiative Lab to share their research and experience.
My name is Maddie Magrino and I am a senior at ASU studying Earth and Environmental Studies with a minor in Sustainability. I was first introduced to the Global Locust Initiative (GLI) upon taking Dr. Arianne Cease’s Sustainable Ecosystems course in Fall of 2019. I was immediately interested in the projects Dr. Cease was working on and was eager to join the GLI team to help their research. I was fortunate enough to be offered to work on a remote project comparing the media coverage of the desert locust outbreak in 2004/2005 and the outbreak in 2019/2020 alongside Clara Therville and Marie Chandelier.
Understanding the differences in media coverage over time is essential to determining how the media is able to influence the public’s perception of current events. The coverage of desert locust outbreaks in 2004/2005 and 2019/2020 differed immensely in numbers (see figure 1), but did it differ in content, verbiage and tone? Using a research database, Factiva, we collected about 150 articles from the New York Times, BBC and The Guardian, from the time periods 2000-2009 and 2010-2020.
At the beginning of 2021, the Global Locust Network launched an online professional community using a software called Mobilize. The platform functions like a “LinkedIn for locusts” where Network members can connect directly and exchange information in a common space. The Global Locust Initiative sees this as a critical resource for the community to unify conversations and streamline opportunities for collaboration and information sharing across disciplines, sectors, and continents.
On Friday April 16th, the new online community reached 100 members, with representatives from 30 countries and over 75 areas of expertise. Members are research scientists, field technicians, non-profit professionals, students, professors, farmers, and officials from intergovernmental organizations like The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In addition to providing a community hub website for sharing expertise, posting events, job opportunities, and updates, Mobilize works seamlessly with your email, making it easy for members to respond to messages and posts from the familiarity of their usual mailbox.
This is the second of four planned workshops to identify and address institutional barriers to sustainable locust management. The first workshop took place in February of 2020 in Tucumán, Argentina and focused on governance issues surrounding research and management of the South American locust (Schistocerca cancellata). Both led by Clara Therville, Postdoctoral Scholar, and Marty Anderies, Professor, Arizona State University who study how people govern natural resources.
By Douglas Lawton, PhD Candidate in ASU School of Life Sciences, December 14, 2020
After a record-breaking drought for the past two years, Australia is experiencing a resurgence in Australian Plague Locust (Chortoicetes terminifera) outbreaks throughout the eastern seaboard, but more intensely in New South Wales. The Australian Plague Locust Commission (APLC) predicts that swarms and outbreaks will likely continue into December with a moderate likelihood of region-wide outbreaks developing later into summer.
We are seeking a full-time Education Coordinator for the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI), a newly established Biology Integration Institute funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. This position will provide leadership and administrative support to facilitate all aspects of training and educational activities at the BPRI.
The successful candidate will be a central communicator and facilitator for faculty and trainees of the BPRI, and work closely with various member institutions of the BPRI (Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University, Washington University in St. Louis, Arizona State University, University of California-Davis, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville). This position offers a unique opportunity to develop a career as an education specialist who can work with scientists, postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students across different biological disciplines. There are also opportunities to develop leadership skills through shared governance. The position is based at Texas A&M University. We are especially interested in candidates who can contribute to the BPRI’s diversity through their service. Women, minorities, people with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply.
A postdoctoral position is available in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA. The position is part of the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI), one of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s four newly established Biology Integration Institutes.
The BPRI focuses on understanding locust phase polyphenism, one of the most striking examples of coordinated phenotypic plasticity. This phenomenon provides a powerful comparative system for understanding how gene expression patterns and epigenetic regulation are linked to shifts in behavior, physiology, and ecology that result in outbreaks, collective movement, and mass migration. The BPRI is established to comprehensively dissect this phenomenon and use it as a model system to transform the study of phenotypic plasticity. With a commitment to improving diversity, inclusion and equity, the BPRI will train the next generation of integrative biologists who can efficiently navigate across different disciplines.
BPRI is an NSF-funded virtual institute consisting of a group of like-minded teacher-scholars with diverse disciplinary expertise from six institutions. The Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI) uses locust phase polyphenism as a model system to transform the way phenotypic plasticity is studied by linking sub-organismal processes to the whole organism, populations, and ecosystems, and ultimately to the tree of life.
ASU to join six other universities to create an institute to better understand locust phase change.
As a formidable ecological force, locusts have a long history of devastating crops and causing food insecurity throughout history and around the world. A secret to their success—dubbed phase polyphenism—is a textbook case of phenotypic plasticity where an individual can modify its phenotype in response to a changing environment. Locusts can capitalize on times of plenty by altering their morphology, physiology, and behavior as they shift from a cryptic and solitary lifestyle to a mobile and gregarious one. This ultimately results in the dramatic outbreaks with swarms of billions of individuals we are seeing currently on multiple continents.
Locusts are a major pest in many parts of the world, damaging plants and livelihoods. Senegal is one such place; farmers constantly battle migrating swarms of the local Senegalese grasshopper.
Led by Associate Professor Arianne Cease from the School of Sustainability and funded by USAID, the Global Locust Initiative went to Senegal — an area where they’ve been working since 2016 — to see if changing crops’ nutrients would deter locusts and to work with local communities and organizations to monitor and manage locust numbers.
The initiative, part of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, is devoted to researching the complex problem of locusts and finding solutions alongside local collaborators.
The latest issue of Metaleptea (Vol. 40, Issue 3), the Newsletter of the Orthopterists’ Society, is published and available to read! It features upcoming events, announcements, regional reports, and recent research. Locusts are a key feature, including the announcement of the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI) — a newly funded NSF Biology Integration Institute, updates on outbreaking locusts species from South Asia to Brazil, and a new paper in the works about how spatiotemporal hierarchy improves locust outbreak models.
New outbreaks of the African Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria migratorioides) and the Yellow-spined Bamboo Locust (Ceracris kiangsu) are causing concern in addition to the ongoing outbreaks of the Desert Locust and South American Locust.
Southern African countries have launched an emergency response to outbreaks of the African Migratory Locust which, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of people in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These outbreaks are smaller and separate from the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) emergency in eastern Africa and southwest Asia. Compounding effects of a 2019 drought and the COVID-19 pandemic are reported to make the food and nutrition security issues more acute.
A study published Aug. 2 in the Journal of Animal Ecology finds that migrating locusts carbo-load before flying up to 350 kilometers in a single night.
Marion Le Gall, an assistant research professor in the Global Locust Initiative in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, conducted a locust field study in 2017 in Senegal.
Her findings showed that Mongolian locusts did better in overgrazed pastures than in a normal pasture. Co-author and sustainability scientist Arianne Cease tied this to the nutritional content of plants: Land that was overgrazed contained less nitrogen and plants were more sugar-based. That was good for the locusts.