Getting to the root of locust plagues

SERVICE FOR EDITORIAL OFFICES: Konstanz research expedition investigates causes for the current locust swarms in Africa and the collective decision-making processes of the animals – information service for editorial offices and possibility of journalistic onsite visits.

East Africa is experiencing the worst locust swarms in decades. Billions of insects have been destroying crops in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya and the outbreak has just spilled over to Uganda with South Sudan next in line. Billions of Euros will be spent on aerial spraying to control the swarms, yet there is currently no robust way to predict how and when swarms form, where they move, and why they eventually fade away. University of Konstanz researchers are seizing this rare opportunity to conduct basic collective behaviour research on swarms in the wild. Their results will generate fundamental insights on the mechanisms driving and influencing these devastating plagues.

As a scientific service, the research team from Konstanz provides extensive information to editorial offices. In addition to data and facts, film and photo material, journalists may accompany the research expedition in East Africa on site. Interested journalists can obtain more information by contacting

Field research in Kenya

The team of neurobiologists traveling to Kenya are part of the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz. Led by senior scientist Dr Einat Couzin-Fuchs, the team comprises one postdoctoral fellow and two PhD students. Departing Germany on February 24, the team will travel to the heart of the outbreak where they will work together with the local ground teams, currently responsible for pest control, as well as scientists from the Entomological Society in Kenya.

“We have come so far in studying the basis of individual movement decisions as well as developing technologies to monitor them in the lab, but there has never been an opportunity to put them to work in the wild,” says Dr Couzin-Fuchs, who leads the Odour to Action group in the Department of Biology at the University of Konstanz.

Swarm dynamics

The researcher’s goal is to conduct experiments in the wild that focus on behaviour and swarm dynamics. The Konstanz team bring with them vast experience on studying the mechanisms underlying perceptual movement decisions in insects. Now, they will test how these generate collective group dynamics in swarming locusts. In particular, the scientists will take state-of-the-art technologies developed in the lab into the natural swarms to track individual locusts and reconstruct their visual field.

“This is especially important given the fact that once in numbers, locusts undergo an extreme phase transition that leads them to actively aggregate, breed more, develop faster and move further. As a result, population density increases even further in a positive feedback cycle driving the plague into its devastating scale. Combining our theoretical knowledge about the physics of the plague with ongoing field data could assist in locating the transition points by which interventions are still effective”, says Dr Couzin-Fuchs.

“This is a great opportunity to combine our tools and approach to collective behaviour with the experience of the local ground teams and scientists to see if we can get some real insights that can help us better predict where the insects will disperse.”


  • Konstanz research expedition investigates causes for the current locust swarms in Africa and the collective decision-making processes of the animals
  • The research team are: Einat Couzin-Fuchs (Principal Investigator); Felix Oberhauser (postdoctoral fellow); Inga Petelski (PhD student); Yannick Günzel (PhD student)
  • Information service for editorial offices: The research team provides current information to interested journalists about the project, film and photo material as well as the possibility to accompany the research expedition in East Africa on site.
  • The team will depart Germany on Feb 24th and return on March 21st. They will be located in Mpala research centre and surrounding areas. The expedition is funded by funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany's ExcellenceStrategy (Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, University of Konstanz.