The researchers reached their conclusion by studying immature, flightless locusts. They developed computerized motion analysis to automatically track the insects marching in an enclosed arena.
In nature, Couzin said, these locust nymphs can gather in large mobile groups called bands. They can stretch over tens of miles, devouring vegetation as they march. They inevitably precede the flying swarms of adult locusts.
"Once they take flight, locust control is extremely expensive and ineffective," Couzin said. "So understanding when, where and why the bands of juvenile locusts form is crucial for controlling locust populations."
Through history, locusts have invaded up to one-fifth of the Earth's surface, he said. They have contributed to major humanitarian crises in areas such as Darfur and Niger.
Besides having practical applications, understanding the movement of locusts also is part of a growing inquiry by scientists into an area known as group dynamics. With locusts, researchers have been seeking to understand how the group seems to move with the synchronized perfection of the Rockettes when there is no centralized leader and individuals can barely see beyond a few neighbors on either side.
Animal groups such as flocks of birds, schools of fish and swarms of insects frequently exhibit such complex and coordinated collective motion and present a great opportunity to understand how local interactions can lead to vast collective behavior, the scientists said.
|Contact: Kitta MacPherson|