Navigation Links
Notre Dame research offers important clues about grasshopper population explosions

Literature and films have left us with vivid images of the grasshopper plagues that devastated the Great Plains in the 1870s. Although commonly referred to as grasshoppers, the infestations were actually by Rocky Mountain locusts.

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.


Contact: Gary Belovsky
University of Notre Dame

Related biology news :

1. Notre Dame researchers describe new tool for evaluating managed relocations
2. Notre Dame study focuses on protein dynamics
3. Twins are intriguing research subjects for Notre Dame biometircs researchers
4. Notre Dame and Wyoming scientists genetically engineer silkworms to produce artificial spider silk
5. Notre Dame researcher helps discover walking properties of bacteria
6. Notre Dame biologists call for regulation of rare plant sales
7. Wistar Institute researcher receives New Innovator award from NIH
8. NC State researchers get to root of parasite genome
9. White Mountain Research Station to host climate change conference
10. Stevens awarded $1M for advanced biofuels research
11. Researchers find animal with ability to survive climate change
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/20/2015)... Connecticut , November 20, 2015 ... authentication company focused on the growing mobile commerce market ... CEO, Gino Pereira , was recently interviewed on ... interview will air on this weekend on Bloomberg ... Latin America . --> NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... Paris from 17 th until 19 ... from 17 th until 19 th November 2015. ... invented the first combined scanner in the world which scans ... now two different scanners were required: one for passports and ... the same surface. This innovation is an ideal solution for ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... , Nov. 12, 2015  A golden retriever that ... muscular dystrophy (DMD) has provided a new lead for ... Hospital, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and ... . Cell, pinpoints a ... "escape" the disease,s effects. The Boston Children,s lab of ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/1/2015)... , Dec. 1, 2015  The Minnesota High ... of the 2015 Tekne Award in the Small and ... at the Minneapolis Convention Center, ... played a significant role in developing new technologies that ... around the world. Clostridium difficile infection ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... ADDISON, Texas (PRWEB) , ... ... ... International , a leading relationship marketing company specializing in scientifically backed, age-defying ... magazine’s January 2016 issue, which highlights the exponential success and unrivaled opportunities ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... ... , ... Matthew “Tex” VerMilyea, PhD, HCLD, has joined Texas Fertility Center as ... lab procedures as well as continue his research efforts into the emerging technologies of ... New Zealand to bring home a High Complexity Clinical Laboratory Director named Tex,” says ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... ... Global Stem Cells Group announced the opening of a new core patient care hub ... northern Chile. The facilities are part of GSCG’s expansion efforts in Latin America. , ... cell medicine to patients from around the world. , The clinics will be headed by ...
Breaking Biology Technology: