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ASU locust experts dispatch to Argentina to offer aid during outbreak.
Group spends two weeks traveling to different hot spots to study locusts.
Trip ends with outlines for future collaboration between nations' researchers.
July 14, 2016

When an outbreak hits Argentina, Arianne Cease and her lab manager study hot spots with local experts to create solutions

The worst locust outbreak in 60 years struck Argentina last January. Farmers reported insect swarms more than 4 miles long and almost 2 miles high. More than 1.7 million acres were under potential threat.

The problem had been kept under wraps for so long that many had no idea what they were dealing with.

Some believe complacency had led to government budget cutbacks in locust monitoring, and many people who knew how to deal with locust plagues were retired.

“The locust upsurge slapped our faces and caused us to awake from a long nap,” said a government scientist.

Enter Arianne Cease, a scientistCease is an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie A. Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. at Arizona State University who studies how interactions between humans, plants and insects affect agriculture. She is an expert on locusts and has studied them worldwide.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to position ourselves to be on the ground for when it’s happening,” Cease said.

She tasked Jenni Learned, a senior research specialist and manager of her lab, to find contacts.

Learned emailed everyone in the country who had anything to do with locusts. It took a few weeks of sleuthing. The standard email went like this: “Hey. We saw there’s an outbreak. Are you interested in us coming down there?”

Word got around. “They found out we were serious about it,” she said.

Learned hopped on a plane, went down first, scoped out the field sites and met with technicians from government agencies and government scientists. The Argentinians were happy to see her.

Argentina landscape

South American locusts live in forested, mountainous areas. Photos courtesy of Arianne Cease


“Considering their experience and expertise on locust problems in different countries, it was decided that as part of our renewed efforts to learn more about the potential drivers of the upsurge, it was a good idea to assist Arianne and Jennifer in their field explorations and share experiences, knowledge and ideas for future work as we traveled through the hot spots,” said Eduardo Trumper, a researcher with the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA) who studies the ecology and management of agricultural pests.

The locust upsurge startled the public as well as almost every researcher, consultant and government agricultural agent, according to Trumper.

“A few field scouts had given warnings that monitoring and control operations in the locust breeding areas were withering during the last years, probably as a consequence of budget cuts,” he said. “But perhaps it was not just a problem of less resources available but also a case of numbness and overconfidence after so many years without any outbreak occurring. First big lesson for us all: Do not take it for granted.”

Cease flew down in early May. She, Learned, Trumper and other expertsThe group included Jorge Frana from INTA, Carlos Maldonado and other experts from SENASA (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria). hit the road for about two weeks, driving to trouble spots. Sometimes they were tipped off the same day by field scouts.

“Sometimes we could only know where we would head minutes before departure,” Trumper said of the field reports. “While traveling, Jennifer and Arianne told us about different aspects of their research projects and they asked us ... about different details of the environment, the livelihoods in the region, the agricultural and animal production systems, also details about the typical life cycle of locust in the region.”

The Argentinians provided matching funds for a two-day workshop in early May attended by university researchers and government officials.

Cease discussed how to approach the problem from a systems standpoint. Using a systems approach as a management tool for locusts has yet to be implemented on a large scale anywhere, she said.

This approach starts with good on-the-ground monitoring, coupled with centralized monitoring. When hot spots arise, field techs can deal with the problem by spraying before the locusts get out of hand.

One question Cease asked was, “Are there agricultural practices that promote large-scale outbreaks?”

Poor soil quality from overgrazing and a lack of crop rotation and plant nutrients can affect outbreaks. Some locusts like plants that are low in protein but high in carbohydrates.

“It’s like junk food, if you like,” Cease said.

There are 20 species of locusts. Some eat only grasses. South American locusts — the type in Argentina — will eat anything. Locusts live in recession zones: For this species, it’s forested, mountainous areas. They’re low-key in their own zones and can be difficult to find. When populations increase and become more dense, it’s a trigger that leads to swarms, which then spill over into adjacent invasion zones.

“The plan for monitoring in Argentina is monitoring those recession zones,” Cease said.

Anecdotally, it seems when recession zones are decreased, it leads to more frequent invasions. This hasn’t been studied, Cease said.

The Argentine outbreak can be attributed to a perfect storm resulting from climate change, a good year for locusts, and budgetary cutbacks in monitoring. Like many problems faced by governments, if it’s not immediately rearing its head, they’re inclined to switch their attention (and money) to other priorities.

Argentina responded quickly in this case, and there wasn’t a big economic hit as a consequence.

“It was a good reminder their monitoring programs need to be kept in place,” Cease said. “They’re using this as a fresh opportunity to look at locust control. ... It was heartening to see the response to systems thinking.”

The trip ended with outlines for future collaboration. Because locusts were kept under control for so long, there was little opportunity for Argentinian researchers to keep up studies of the species, according to Trumper.

“Consequently, there are still many holes to fill in terms of biology and ecology knowledge of this species,” he said. “I believe that part of these holes, these knowledge gaps can be solved through collaboration with researchers who have been and still are working on locust problems around the world, and this is where we can build a partnership with Arizona State University.”

Cease is working on building a Global Locust Consortium. She hopes to launch the initial meeting later this year or early in 2017. One arm of the consortium will be a rapid-response team, to carry out missions like hers in Argentina.

Science is an international language, Learned was reminded on the trip.

“We really do have this common language of how science can help us address some of these global issues,” she said. “Every time I end up in these crazy places, I get a good reception. It was a very good experience.”

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Native American radio summit empowers station owners, prospects

Advocates to discuss how to expand, improve Native-owned radio stations.
Conference at Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix features FCC commissioner.
July 15, 2016

Media diversity advocates say Native-owned radio stations are especially important on rural reservations and that more networks are needed

Loris Taylor knows firsthand how tough it can be to run a radio station in Indian Country.

When she first took over KUYI 88.1 FM on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona in 2000, she had no support system and at one point made an engineer sketch equipment diagrams on an office chalkboard so she could see how everything fit together.

It was a bad signal for Taylor and others who say radio transmissions are vital in rural areas with limited access to newspapers, local TV and consistent internet service. “I literally knew nothing, and I was the general manager,” Taylor said. “There was no learning curve for me because everything was a straight vertical line.”

But now, thanks in part to efforts from Taylor, who left the station 11 years ago to help start the diversity advocacy group Native Public Media, the task isn’t as daunting and radio is a growing platform on reservations across the U.S.

Taylor’s group aims to improve and expand existing Native-owned and -operated radio stations and to increase the number and reach of such stations. Native Public Media — along with Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute, the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters — is hosting a three-day summit starting July 19 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. Organizers plan to give Native American broadcasters an overview of radio station management, operation requirements, federal regulations, programming, funding and engineering.

“Tribal radio is a lifeline on tribal reservations,” said Traci Morris, American Indian Policy Institute director. She said the conference will provide a needed boost and that “the Cronkite School is the perfect place for Native radio and media professionals to assemble and to consult with the FCC.”

A woman sits in front of radio recording equipment.

Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, has made it her mission
to expand access to local radio on Indian reservations across the U.S.

Tribes have been lobbying the federal agency to grant more broadcast licenses to Native owners on tribal lands. Since 2007, the FCC has approved dozens of new stations in Indian Country. In 2010, the agency adopted a “tribal priority” rule to make it easier for Native owners to obtain radio licenses. The agency’s former Native affairs liaison, Geoffrey C. Blackwell, who also will attend the summit, said in a 2013 statement that the rule is intended to help “provide radio service tailored to specific tribal needs and cultures” and foster “localism and diversity of ownership.”

There are more than 560 federally recognized tribes across the U.S. comprising more than 4 million people. Including the recent growth, advocates say there are currently 58 Indian radio stations and about 20 more headed toward approval. The expansion is promising, but not enough, they say.

“Most of Indian Country is still dark,” Taylor said. “We’re just not wired.”

Summit attendees will hear from FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn, who organizers say has become known as an advocate for media diversity. Clyburn didn’t return an email seeking comment for this story, but she is scheduled to speak Wednesday.   

For Taylor, the conference marks a significant moment, but it by no means signals that her work is over. With more stations on tribal lands, people will be better informed about government, public safety and other issues that affect their communities, she said. Native people also will be able to turn back negative stereotypes by telling their own stories, even in remote areas, she said.

“Radio is a technology that serves Indian Country well,” Taylor said, “because all it requires is a small appliance in the household.”


Top photo: Producer Justin Miller of KLND 89.5 FM in McLaughlin, South Dakota, takes a seat behind the microphone.