Are recession populations of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) remnants of past swarms?


Kamal M. Ibrahim. Fax: + 44 1603 592250; E-mail:


The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) undergoes crowding-induced phase transformation from solitary to gregarious, which involves changes in behaviour, colour, development, morphometry, fecundity and endocrine physiology. During recession, solitary locusts persist in the central, drier part of the species’ range in small pocket populations that are prone to extinction. During the intermittent upsurges and the subsequent plagues, gregarious swarms attain huge population size and invade a vast area causing major damage to agriculture. A highly variable nuclear DNA marker, a noncoding 3′ end fragment of an antennapedia-class homeobox gene, was screened in locust samples from Eritrea. Despite the homogenizing potential of plague swarms, the last of which was in 1986–89 and originated in this region, the population genetic structure of solitary phase locusts along the Red Sea coast of Eritrea revealed significant divergence. The pattern of divergence indicated that the invasion of the western and northern plains in the summer of 1995 may not, as reported then, have originated in eastern Chad or western Sudan. A number of interrelated hypotheses have been presented to explain the observed genetic heterogeneity between the sampled populations. We conclude, with caution due to the limited sample sizes, that: (i) geographical isolation between breeding sites during plagues and recession; (ii) the marked differences in the flight behaviour of plague swarms and recession populations; (iii) possible failure of gregarious locusts to solitarize and re-establish in recession areas; and (iv) the effect of repeated extinction and recolonization in the meta-population contribute to the maintenance of the genetic structure of recession populations. Potentially productive future research has been identified.