The Rocky Mountain locust became extinct in 1902, but their cousins, grasshoppers and Mormon crickets, today still cause an estimated $1.5 billion (2005 U.S. dollars) in damage to grazing lands in the American West.
A long-running research project directed by University of Notre Dame biologist Gary Belovsky, who also is director of the Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC), is examining what limits grasshopper populations and the role played by grasshoppers in prairie ecosystems.
Belovsky first started studying grasshopper populations in 1978 at the National Bison Range, now a location for one of UNDERC's national undergraduate programs. Following the last major Western grasshopper outbreak in 1985, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (UDSA-APHIS) asked Belovsky to help study the grasshopper's feeding preferences and population dynamics in western Montana.
Belovsky's research demonstrates that no single factor leads to a grasshopper outbreak, but, rather, multiple interacting factors are necessary. This requires sound understanding of how food and predators influence these native insects in combination with varying climate.
One of his key discoveries is that grasshoppers have a major impact on plants by changing the way nitrogen cycles in grasslands. Where grasshoppers speed up the process of nitrogen recycling by selectively feeding on plants that take longer to decompose, plant production increases. However, if they selectively feed on plants that decompose quickly, nitrogen becomes less available to the soil and plant production decreases.
Belovsky's findings helped change the way USDA/APHIS carries out its mandate to control grasshoppers on federal rangeland. Previously, the agency sprayed large swaths of land with insecticides, including areas where grasshoppers were actually befitting plant growth by speeding up nitrogen recycling. USDA/APHIS now relies on more restricted spraying, focusing on those areas where grasshoppers are damaging plants.
Belovsky also used National Science Foundation funding to develop mathematical models to help predict significant spikes in grasshopper populations based on the number of grasshopper eggs. If egg numbers are low in the spring, grasshopper predators like birds and spiders can usually keep the populations under control. However, when eggs in the spring are especially numerous, more grasshoppers hatch and predators are unable to keep the populations under control, which can signal significant problems for rangeland ecosystems. However, if grasshoppers are very abundant, the young grasshoppers may actually compete for the rarer highly nutritious food plants and starve to death before they can grow up and cause damage to the range.
Belovsky's research is now the longest running experimental study at a site examining what controls grasshopper numbers and, as such, Belovsky continues to acquire an unusually detailed and rich database of scientific information about Western rangelands. Additionally, UNDERC undergraduates, including a number of Native Americans, learn about this striking ecosystem and some participate in the research.
His research has the potential to make grasshopper plagues, like the Rocky Mountain locust, but a memory.
Gary Belovsky | EurekAlert!
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Life Sciences