#IntheKNOW Live Chat: Dr. Arianne Cease and Dr. Rick Overson

Climate Impacts: Locusts and Looming Food Insecurity in East Africa

 

On September 4, 2020, Dr. Arianne Cease, Senior Sustainability Scientist and Director of the Global Locust Initiative at the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, and Dr. Rick Overson, Research Manager in the Cease Lab and the Research Coordinator for the Global Locust Initiative at the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, joined NCSE’s KNOW Community on Slack for an #IntheKNOW Live Chat. This Live Chat followed the release of a pre-recorded video interview with the researchers.

 

Dr. Arianne Cease

 

Dr. Arianne Cease is a sustainability scientist with a focus on the ecology and physiology of organisms in coupled natural and human systems. Her research involves interdisciplinary approaches to studying the effect of human-plant-insect interactions on the sustainability of agricultural systems, with a focus on locust plagues in China, Australia, and Africa. A key goal of her research is to improve sustainable ecosystem management and local livelihoods by linking fundamental research on animal physiology and ecology with economic models and policy.

 

 

Dr. Rick Overson

 

Dr. Overson’s research seeks to understand the mechanisms which produce and maintain variation both within and between locust species and how this variation ultimately affects the evolution of natural populations. He uses approaches in behavioral ecology, ecology, population genetics, and phylogenetics to understand how traits important for these interactions are partitioned in space and time, and how this mosaic affects speciation and biodiversity. His current research is aimed at understanding variation in locust behavioral and nutritional ecology and the drivers of locust swarming behavior, in an effort to improve locust management and global food security.

Arianne and Rick’s recent interview with NCSE Science Engagement Intern, Jack Carew, opens an important window for the NCSE community on highly pressing issues of food security, climate change, and the need for comprehensive and integrated solutions-oriented work. Below is the edited transcript of the interview:

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Good morning everyone. My name is Jack Carew and I am the NCSE Science Engagement Intern. Before I introduce our guests today, I want to give a brief explanation of the new format of today’s live chat. Since we shared a pre-recorded video interview earlier on this channel, we will omit the customary interview of our featured guests. Instead, we will spend the entirety of today’s live chat fielding questions from the KNOW community that have been submitted through a Google Form, as well as those that members submit in real time. We welcome any and all questions; if you did not have a chance to watch the interview before today’s chat, do not worry. Please direct message me at any point if you have any questions. 

Without further ado, I couldn’t be happier to be here today in conversation with Dr. Arianne Cease and Dr. Rick Overson. They are joining us today for an open discussion regarding swarms of locusts in East Africa, South and East Asia, and South America and the strategies employed to fight these swarms.

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative at the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation

Hi Everyone! Thanks for welcoming us to the community. Happy to be here.

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative at the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation

Hi everyone. Glad to be here! My name is Rick Overson, I’m a research scientist at Arizona State University and the research coordinator for the Global Locust Initiative.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

One of our viewers submitted the question, “What are some of your greatest challenges at the Global Locust Initiative?”

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

One of the biggest challenges is understanding the complex landscape in which locust research and management sits. Locusts readily cross national boundaries, which means many countries, sometimes with quite different cultures, values, and infrastructures have to figure out how to work together to suppress the outbreaks. Navigating all of those nuances and figuring out where gaps are and where there are potential synergies can be tricky, but is well worth it. (edited) 

Locusts

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

That sounds like a tough challenge for both managers and policymakers.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

That seems like a tremendous coordination effort, as I remember you mentioning, many organizations tasked with combating locust swarms are housed within national bureaus of pest control. I wonder if there are ways in which the spreading of transnational blights is facilitated by preexisting poor political relations between countries. Or, how, conversely, positive relations between countries might correlate to more effective pest management coordination.

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

All good points. Civil war has been reported to be a factor limiting response efforts, for example, the war in Yemen contributed to a major locust swarm in Africa.

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

There have also been shining examples where locusts bring together countries in novel coordination that is quite admirable.

There is an outbreak in South America that doesn’t receive as much media attention as the current S. gregaria outbreak in Africa and the Middle East, and understandably, as the latter is much more dire from a food security standpoint. However, the South American outbreak and its repercussions are of grave concern. The spectacle of the outbreak has also been quite dramatic—after 60 years of only very small outbreaks—huge swarms emerged to everyone’s surprise in 2015, swarms that have not died down for any appreciable time in over four years!!! This resulted in Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia declaring states of national emergency. In a dramatic example of efficient collaboration, these three countries rapidly coordinated to develop international monitoring, treatment, and training infrastructure almost overnight—regaining lost capacity for managing the locust—and the battle continues on today. Our team at ASU was invited in the early stages with all three nations to participate in round table discussions, and have since returned for many research trips and workshops.

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

The socio-political dimensions are fascinating and show so clearly how social and ecological systems are so linked

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative at the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation

Definitely

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

It's great to hear some good news about international collaboration! In your work, what ways of communicating/collaborating internationally have you noticed are most effective?

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

In my experience a diversity of approaches have been critical at different times and with different stakeholders. For example, in Latin America, being available in real-time with government officials, farmers, and other stakeholders using apps like WhatsApp (which is used heavily there) has been very important for efficient communication at critical times from everything from planning workshops to connecting partners in moments of crisis.

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

I was shocked by the statistic you shared in your interview about the number of kids who don't start school when there is a locust outbreak- is that because they need to help replant the crop or because they can no longer afford to attend?

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

That is a good question. There are many factors that can influence educational opportunities, but you’ve highlighted two main ones. The children are needed to help replant or otherwise help provide for the family, sometimes through working outside the home. It also limits the amount of money available to pay school fees, including things such as school uniforms and supplies. Young girls tend to be the least supported to go to school.

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

Sounds like a complex issue on top of just trying to get rid of the locusts. Do any of your partners do work to support families dealing with these indirect impacts of locusts?

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

Absolutely a complex issue. There has been support for relief efforts from several organizations — here are a few examples:

USAID: 

USAID Announces an Additional $10 Million in Humanitarian Assistance to Control Locusts in East Africa | Press Release | U.S. Agency for International Development

The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing an additional $10 million in humanitarian assistance to support regional operations to control desert locusts in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Republic of Kenya, and the Federal Republic of Somalia. This announcement brings the U.S. Government's humanitarian response to the infestation of locusts to a total of $19 million. By helping to reduce the size of the swarms, this aid is expected to have a positive impact on affected communities throughout the Horn of Africa.

 

World Bank: 

World Bank Approves $43 Million Emergency Financing to Support Kenya’s Desert Locust Response

The World Bank Board of Directors approved a $43 million IDA credit for Kenya as part of a larger regional Emergency Locust Response Project to respond to the threat posed by the desert locust outbreak and to strengthen Kenya’s system for preparedness.

 

Action Against Hunger: https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/story/locusts-swarm-east-africa

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Another KNOW member who viewed yesterday’s interview asked, “What inspired you both to begin investigating locusts and work on locust-caused phenomena?”

 

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

For me, I grew up on a ranch and thus was familiar with how challenging pasture and crop protection can be. However, it wasn’t until I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa that I really understood what a locust plague was or the devastating impacts it can have on rural farming communities.

After the Peace Corps, I decided to pursue a PhD in biology to try to better understand locust biology and help contribute to solutions. It quickly became apparent how interconnected humans and locusts are — how people manage the land, for example, can greatly influence locust populations. That led me to the pathway of studying locusts as part of complex social-ecological-technological systems. And championing the Global Locust Initiative to link partners around the world.

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

I have been a “bug nerd” since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (so to speak)—driving my mom nuts with jars of escaping critters in our house as a kid. I was clueless about grad school and because I found fantastic mentors at the right time when I was an undergraduate at ASU, I had the opportunity to start grad school work with a great group of people researching behavioral ecology in ants. After that, I worked on projects in pollination ecology and evolutionary biology and systematics, and three years ago was hired back at ASU to work with the Global Locust Initiative and the fascinating subject of locusts!. As part of my job, I work as a research scientist on various research projects with locusts and also as a coordinator of research for our every-growing Global Locust Network.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Wow, thank you both for sharing about your backgrounds. I find the myriad paths one takes to a given career and specialty so interesting.

 

Michelle Wyman, NCSE Executive Director

Dr. Cease and Dr. Overson, thank you so much for being with us today. Given the scale of impact across countries and regions, how do you think multilateral institutions like the World Bank can be most effective?

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

Another great question. World Bank has extensive response efforts: 

The Desert Locust Crisis and the World Bank Group

Find out how the World Bank is moving quickly to monitor and control locust population growth, protect and restore livelihoods, prevent future outbreaks.

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative

Importantly, is the capacity to be flexible to meet the changing needs of local communities and organizations on the ground, as well as help coordinate international efforts overseen by the UN

 

Michelle Wyman, NCSE Executive Director

Such a good point. Sustained capacity requires flexibility as well as resources, which is a longstanding challenge for multilateral interventions... great when they are on the ground, however if local capacity building isn't a component part of the work, the vacuum that occurs when multilats leave can be overwhelming. This must be particularly challenging given the movement patterns of the swarms.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Good question! I wonder about the implications of the World Bank’s response efforts upon countries, especially in relation to the need for local expertise in working within socio- cultural frameworks in affected countries. In any multilateral response, an emphasis on local knowledge and stakeholders seems to be an important element.

locusts

Another viewer submitted question is: “What, if any, species prey upon locusts? How does the proliferation of locusts disrupt existing food webs? Does it, for example, lead to a similar boom and bust cycle in predators that consume locusts?”

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

A lot of things eat locusts—and grasshoppers in general for that matter: other arthropods, birds, reptiles, mammals (including humans). They also have lots of pathogens and parasites that attack them which possibly play a strong role in grasshopper/locust population dynamics. From a management standpoint, unfortunately, due to how predator/prey interactions work, once conditions are right for locusts and an upsurge of manic growth begins, it becomes very infeasible to rely on predators and parasites to keep hoppers under control as they quickly overcome any pressure from their natural enemies.

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

On a related note, are there any plants that locusts don't eat? Or ways to genetically modify crops to be locust resistant?

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

Excellent question! For several of the locust species we’ve worked with (South American locust, Senegalese grasshopper, Australian plague locust), we’ve found that they prefer low nitrogen plants, especially during outbreaks. Neem trees are great at repelling locusts

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

From the video, I learned that we are still in the early stages of understanding the impacts of climate change on locust behavior and reproduction. What are some of the most urgent research needs that you see?

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

Yes. There has been fantastic research done and advancements made, but we still have a lot to uncover. Some key elements are connecting lab and field research. For example, understanding how locusts respond to environmental factors at small local levels, how those differ across different regions, and how to scale that information up to develop accurate predictive models.

 

Locusts can respond to environmental change quite differently depending on the local context, which makes it difficult to extrapolate findings in the lab or in one small area to the whole of their range. Thus, large-scale and connected efforts to understand the locust in its social-ecological system across its range are going to be really important for understanding how the complex factors arising from climate change will affect locust populations broadly.

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

I loved the video!

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for engaging!

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Before everyone returns to their days, I encourage you all to read and share the following resources Dr. Cease and Dr. Overson shared with me! ASU’s Global Locust Initiative Desert Locust Outbreak resource page: 

https://sustainability.asu.edu/global-locust-initiative/gli-desert-locust-outbreak/

ASU’s Global Locust Initiative Resources and Organizations:

https://sustainability.asu.edu/global-locust-initiative/resources/

 

 

Arianne Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative 

Thank you for hosting, Jack, and for the community for such an interesting and engaging discussion!!

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern

Thank you all for the meaningful and extensive engagement today. I especially want to express my gratitude to Dr. Cease and Dr. Overson for their generous sharing of time and knowledge with members of the KNOW community. We look forward to collaborating with you both in the future.

 

Michelle Wyman, NCSE Executive Director

Echoing Jack, thank you both and all who joined today

 

Rick Overson, Research Coordinator of the Global Locust Initiative 

Thank you everyone.Fantastic engaging with you today. The world needs more people with diverse skill sets working on locust challenges.