Targeting Breeding Sites May Avoid Locust Infestations In Africa

According To Scientists, Most Efficient Way To Avoid Locust Invasions Would Target Breeding Sites. Depending On Environmental Conditions

Targeting Breeding Sites May Avoid Locust Infestations In Africa
By Hannah C

Massive swarms of locusts in East Africa this year have been compared to the Biblical locust plague during Moses’s time. As Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda continue to recover the losses; researchers developed a model predicting where the desert locusts may make their next breeding sites.

The desert locust Schistocerca gregaria is one of the most harmful major plant-feeding insects, according to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). As the desert locust consume a wide range of crops and grazing land, many communities are under threat where food supplies are already so limited. Staple crops such as cereal, legumes, and pastures for cattle are also resulting in economic losses up to nearly $8.5 billion this year.

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Scientists from ICIPE have been studying the ecology of the species since the early 2000s to develop a “Preventive Locust Control” strategy. They’ve combined early detection of the locusts in specific sites as well as biopesticides and insecticides.

Destructive Desert Locusts

Desert locusts are the only grasshoppers that can transition from a harmless phase to a destructive phase, according to Tonnang. As adults fly together to form massive swarms, they can invade large territories outside their breeding sites.

At the moment, the four countries are fighting the second wave or generation of locust infestation. This means that the locusts from earlier this year have reproduced and hatched in the same region.

Researcher Henri Tonnang and his team worked alongside the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments and several agencies to put together field data such as soil moisture data for their environmental models. Under the right environmental conditions, the team concluded, the locusts could grow into large swarms again and result in further reinfestation.

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Targeting Breeding Sites

According to the modeling data, the breeding sites are in semi-arid zones. Ideal breeding sites are warm, near vegetation, and with sandy soil containing moisture and salt. Females lay their eggs between 1.5 and 2.3 inches deep in the ground.

There have been several methods to get rid of the pests ranging from local military efforts to farmers and their children running around to disturb the swarms and pesticides. Thus far, the efforts have been expensive and not effective.

According to scientists, the most efficient way to avoid locust invasions would target the breeding sites. Depending on the environmental conditions, said Tonnang, the eggs can either hatch within weeks or remain dormant for years. With the eggs difficult to find in the soil, biopesticides may be the best option.

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The next step would be to identify the potential breeding sites. Models showed that large areas in Kenya are at high risk because of ideal conditions, mostly in the northeastern region, similar to Uganda. In South Suda, the north region and the area along the Kenya border are at risk of locust breeding sites.

Ground and aerial surveillance are also recommended to go hand-in-hand with identifying breeding sites. Monitoring weather conditions all-year-round and the types of vegetation are also important. The icipe also said that there needs to be financial support and human resources for proper desert locust management. One other significant factor is monitoring climate change affecting East Africa. If the swarms are under control, up to 25 million people will be potentially saved from acute food insecurity.

This news was originally published at Science Times

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