While it has been a long time since ravaging locusts clouded over massive farmlands and devoured everything except the fence posts, but a Colorado State University agricultural economist remains concerned about potential attacks.
The insects are still a major threat in today's world, according to Joleen Hadrich, an assistant CSU livestock economics professor who is probing the dilemma with colleagues from Arizona State, McGill and Yale universities.
Locusts, which researchers believe still menaces Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia crops, can cost nations billions of dollars in lost crops, they say.
They want to look at how human behavior, market forces and ecological systems interact to affect locust swarms.
They will launch their probes in China, Senegal and Australia – nations that depend on livestock production and each home to locust outbreaks that may be linked to degraded pastures, rendering them desert-like and popular hunting grounds for locusts.
The project, funded by a $950,000 National Science Foundation grant, is designed as a four-year program under the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems effort.
"We understand how important it is to look at the whole picture and we're excited about the project's potential," says Arianne Cease, a physiological ecologist at Arizona State. "We need a better understanding of the links between overgrazing and locust.
"From a social perspective, we also need a unified framework to implement what we find into practice in each of the regions in a way that improves the lives of local farmers and longevity of grasslands."
Hadrich believes that the decisions of one farm do not change market conditions, but the joint effects of all farms dictate how ag markets will move. "By understanding the interactions across the entire system we will be able to measure the role of locust outbreaks on food prices and how that affects society in our three study regions."