Nutritional imbalance suppresses migratory phenotypes of the Mongolian locust (Oedaleus asiaticus)

Arianne J. Cease, Jon F. Harrison, Shuguang Hao, Danielle C. Niren, Guangming Zhang, Le Kang, James J. Elser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


For many species, migration evolves to allow organisms to access better resources. However, the proximate factors that trigger these developmental changes, and how and why these vary across species, remain poorly understood. One prominent hypothesis is that poor-quality food promotes development of migratory phenotypes and this has been clearly shown for some polyphenic insects. In other animals, particularly long-distance bird migrants, it is clear that high-quality food is required to prepare animals for a successful migration. We tested the effect of diet quality on the flight behaviour and morphology of the Mongolian locust, Oedaleus asiaticus. Locusts reared at high population density and fed low-N grass (performance-enhancing for this species) had enhanced migratory morphology relative to locusts fed high-N grass. Furthermore, locusts fed synthetic diets with an optimal 1: 2 protein: carbohydrate ratio flew for longer times than locusts fed diets with lower or higher protein: carbohydrate ratios. In contrast to the hypothesis that performance-degrading food should enhance migration, our results support the more nuanced hypothesis that high-quality diets promote development of migratory characteristics when migration is physiologically challenging.

Original languageEnglish
Article number161039
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Grasslands
  • Migration
  • Migratory polyphenism
  • Movement ecology
  • Nutrition
  • Plant-insect interactions


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