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Locusts and Swarming: Mathematical Model Explains Behavior [VIDEO]

Feb 17, 2016 03:00 PM EST
Locust Swarm
Researchers have for the first time modeled how locusts behave in swarms.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

A new mathematical model drawn up by researchers from the University of Bath may help explain how locusts behave when swarming. The hope is that this will help curb the destruction they can cause.

An individual locust eats the equicalent of its own weight in food every day; and in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia, these swarms can comprise tens of millions of locusts. Researchers studied both the individual and collective actions of swarming locusts captured in video footage taken by colleagues at the University of Adelaide, which served as the basis for their novel model.

"We can describe the locusts' behavior using quite simple rules and have demonstrated for the first time that locusts have to interact with multiple neighbors in order to swarm in the way they do," Kit Yates, co-author of the study, said in the University of Bath's new release.

The model revealed that individual locusts interact with at least two neighbors in order to align themselves properly and fly in the same direction. As swarms grow in size, locusts are more likely to stay on course, communicating with their neighbor before changing direction. Previously, it was believed that the insects fly in this way to protect their vulnerable flank. (Scroll to read more...)

(Photo : Flickr: Till Westermayer)

"We already know that animals, including humans, change their behavior when they are in a crowd, following cues from their peers," Yates added. "In the locust study, we found that small groups of locusts are unstable and tend not to march together - a behavior mimicked in our model."

Researchers also found that locusts are sensitive to external environmental changes such as wind conditions, which can disrupt their interactions and decrease the stability of the swarm.

Their findings may be useful for developing methods to deter locust swarms - especially in places where they are severely damaging the environment, such as in Argentina.

"A better understanding of how individuals behave in these groups could help us develop new strategies of disrupting swarms," Yates said, explaining this could be accomplished using planes or even ultrasonic disturbances. "Our model could also be applied to other swarming insects such as crickets, which are a major problem in Australia, and even in crowd dynamics of humans."

Their study was recently published in the journal Physical Review E.

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