Grasshopper swarms take young researcher to China

November 12, 2010

They were the scourge of the ancient world. For centuries, locust outbreaks have been associated with the loss of crops, destruction and famine. The hunger of these creatures is voracious – there’s even tales of locusts eating people’s clothes.

Curiously, some species of locusts are solitary, but others congregate into ravenous swarms. What exactly triggers these insects to form swarms and why? Download Full Image

For the past three years,  Arianne Cease, doctoral candidate in the School">">School of Life Sciences (SOLS), has been travelling to the northeastern grasslands of China to understand the behaviors of Oedaleus asiaticus (a dominant species of locust common to the region), including the effects swarms have on the environment.

“It is one of just 20 to 30 species of grasshoppers worldwide that have the capability of gathering and creating a migratory swarm,” Cease said. “But in order to do this, the grasshopper as a juvenile must be exposed to certain environmental stimuli.”

For example, grasshoppers must grow in a sociable way, surrounded by other grasshoppers and locusts in order to develop a migratory phenotype (traits an organism develops based on genetics and environmental factors). In the case of the sociable grasshoppers, they develop strong flight muscles and exhibit increased wing area – traits that are useful in a migratory swarm.

According to Cease, the crowding exposure also changes the behavior of most locust species, and as adults tend to group rather than remain solitary.

Another factor Cease and her colleagues examined was the morphology of Oedaleus asiaticus and tried to determine if coloration had any connection to their behaviors.

“Anecdotally we know that swarms are associated to the brown phenotype, not the green ones,” Cease said. “We found out that the brown ones do have bigger flight muscles and bigger wings.”

But the most astonishing aspect of the research the ASU team has made in China is that the locusts are eating nutrient deprived grasses – literally, the leftovers that grazing animals leave behind.

“There’s been a lot of steppe degradation, it’s mostly caused by livestock overgrazing. The interesting link is that [these grasshoppers] thrive in poor quality areas,” Cease said. “So you have an overgrazed area and then get the grasshopper outbreak that comes on top of it and further degrades the specific grassland.”

This research has brought exceptional SOLS undergraduate researchers to the field in Inner Mongolia. Colleen Ford (2009) and Jennifer Esman (2010) spent two months of their summer working closely with Cease and collaborators in China as part of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The findings of the ASU team of Arianne Cease, James Elser, Colleen Ford and Jon Harrison, in collaboration with professors Shuguang Hao and Le Kang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, were published in the August edition of the Journal">">Journal of Insect Physiology.

Women's basketball opens 2010-11 season vs. Northern Arizona

November 12, 2010


The Arizona State women's basketball team opens its 2010-11 season on Friday when it hosts Northern Arizona at 6:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena. Download Full Image

The Sun Devils are looking to bounce back from a 2009-10 season in which they went 18-14 and had the program's unprecedented streak of five consecutive NCAA appearances snapped.

In their only exhibition contest the Sun Devils came through with an impressive 89-56 victory over Fort Lewis College on Sunday.

Kali">">Kali Bennett scored a game-high 14 points and Dymond">">Dy... Simon and Markisha"> Patterson added 11 points each as the Sun Devils came through with a dominating performance on both ends of the floor.

Both teams shot 45 percent for the game, however the Sun Devils capitalized on a 27-7 advantage on the offensive boards, which translated into 27 second-chance points. In addition, ASU scored 33 points on the Skyhawks' 27 turnovers.

The Sun Devils also helped their cause with a 6-of-11 performance (.545) from behind the arc.

Bennett, who made seven of her 11 field goal attempts, led ASU's strong rebounding effort, collecting eight boards while Becca">">Becca Tobin and Kimberly"> Brandon added seven rebounds each.

ASU opened the game with a 20-7 run in the first 6:02 and never looked back on its way to a 28-point halftime lead.

A jumper by Simon gave ASU its largest lead of the game, 52-20, with 19:21 left in the game.

Thirty of ASU's 89 points were scored by players who were either injured in 2009-10 (Simon - 11 points and Patterson - 11 points) or are new to the program (freshman guard Adrianne">"... Thomas - eight points). Simon saw her first action since suffering a knee injury in ASU's 2008-09 regular season finale at Stanford while Patterson, who was 3-4 from 3-point range on Sunday, used a medical redshirt last season after transferring to ASU from Central Arizona.


Friday's game can be heard live on Veteran broadcaster Jeff Munn is in his seventh season as the voice of ASU women's basketball. He will be joined on the broadcast by former Arizona State women's basketball coach Maura McHugh. Pre-game coverage will begin at 6 p.m.

A video stream of the game courtesy of Fox Sports Arizona can also be seen live." target="_blank">The stream can be accessed by clicking here.


Arizona State is 12-2 in season openers under head coach Charli"> Turner Thorne, including wins in 11 of their last 12 games with the only blemish during that span coming in a 75-60 setback to North Carolina in the 2007 State Farm Tip-Off Classic. Last season the Sun Devils opened with a 73-64 home win over South Dakota State. The only other season opener the Sun Devils have lost under Turner Thorne came in her second season when ASU fell to UC Santa Barbara 92-83.


The Sun Devils have won 27 of the 31 all-time meetings against Northern Arizona, including a current string of four consecutive victories. In the most recent meeting ASU defeated the Lumberjacks 91-65 in the championship game of the 2008 ASU Classic. Current Sun Devil Dymond">">Dy... Simon (11 points) was one of four Sun Devils who scored in double figures in the win.

Current Sun Devil head coach Charli"> Turner Thorne began her career as a head coach at Northern Arizona where she accumulated a 40-40 record and became the first coach in school history to guide the program to consecutive winning seasons. In addition, current Sun Devil Associate Head Coach Meg">">Meg Sanders was also the head coach at NAU where she led the Lumberjacks to three of the program's top four campaigns in her seven seasons as head coach.


Rewind back to the first week of March in 2009. At that time the Sun Devils were in the midst of a school record 15-game winning streak and were preparing to challenge the Stanford Cardinal for a share of the Pac-10 title in the 2009 regular-season finale. It was in that game that fate would deal the Sun Devils a terrible blow as All-Pac-10 guard Dymond">">Dy... Simon went down with a season-ending knee injury for the second time in three years. With the loss of such an incredible talent ASU's outlook not only for the 2009 postseason, but also the 2009-10 season suddenly became unclear.

While the 2008-09 Sun Devils would end up making a dramatic run which concluded with the program's second Elite Eight appearance in three season, the 2009-10 squad was greatly affected by the loss of Simon's leadership and abilities on the floor. After taking the 2009-10 season to recover and rehab from the injury, Simon is back now and immediately makes the Sun Devils a squad that others need to take notice of not only within the Pac-10, but around the country. At the time of her injury in 2009, Simon was seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring (13.8 ppg), second in free throw percentage (.882), sixth in 3-point field goal percentage (.381), eighth in assists (3.3 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio and 14th in 3-point field goals per game (1.3). The aforementioned 88.2 percent mark in accuracy from the free throw line set the school's single-season record.

Simon enters the 2010-11 season 11th on ASU's all-time list with 68 career 3-point field goals and seventh in career free throw percentage (.798). Currently with 834 career points, Simon needs 166 points to reach 1,000 for her career.


With Simon injured last season, the responsibilities for running the Sun Devil offense fell largely on the shoulders of junior college transfer Tenaya">">T... Watson. As part of NJCAA national runner-up (2008) and NJCAA champion (2009) teams during her two seasons at Central Arizona, Watson, operating primarily from the shooting guard position, putting together an impressive offensive resume as she averaged 16.6 points as a freshman and 13.8 points as a sophomore.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2009-10 season and Watson was inserted into the point position. Despite being out of her usual position, Watson would go on to display several flashes of brilliance during the season as she tied for first on the team in assists per game (2.5 apg), was second in steals (1.4 spg), third in scoring average (8.0 ppg) and fifth in field goal pct. (.477).

ASU's attempt at a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance last season was affected by a foot injury Watson suffered which forced her to miss three games during the second half of the Pac-10 season.

With the return of Simon and the addition of promising freshman guard Adrianne">"... Thomas, Watson figures to be an even stronger contributor this season as she operates from her more familiar position.

"I am excited about Tenaya," says Sun Devil head coach Charli"> Turner Thorne. "Last she had a phenomenal season despite having to play out of position and this year she gets to play her true position. Also with a year of experience now I think she gets what it take to play at our level."


As ASU's most productive returning starter from last season, senior forward Becca">">Becca Tobin will be looked to for her continued solid contributions on both ends of the floor in addition to combining with fellow seniors Simon and Watson to provide strong leadership for the team. Last season Tobin led the team in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and free throw percentage (.848), was second in scoring (9.7 ppg) and blocks per game (1.2) and third in field goal percentage (.491). A starter in 28 of 32 games, Tobin scored in double figures 15 times, including a career-high 20 points (8-10 FGs, 4-4 FTs) at Oregon (Feb. 13). In addition, Tobin concluded the 2009-10 campaign by making 37 of her last 40 free throws (.925). Currently in 5th place on ASU's all-time career list with 76 blocks, junior Becca">">Becca Tobin needs four more rejections to pass Rachel">">Rachel Holt (1997-00) for 4th place.


Since 2004 the Sun Devils have won nearly 84 percent (77-15) of the games they have played at Wells Fargo Arena. In the last two seasons ASU is 12-1 at home in non-conference games.