A University of Dayton insect ecologist has received a research grant of $364,500 from the National Science Foundation.
Chelse Prather, an assistant professor of biology at UD, studying how certain minerals may play in controlling grasshopper and other insect populations, according to UD.
Prather is working with four students this summer to manipulate soil nutrients in a coastal tall grass prairie south of Houston, Texas, to see how the nutrients affect grasshopper density and diversity.
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While grasshoppers are an important part of the ecosystem, they compete with livestock for food and in large populations can cause millions of dollars of damage to pastures and rangeland.
Ranchers and farmers spend nearly $1 billion annually to control grasshoppers in these areas, but still can’t predict their numbers year-to-year, according to UD.
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“This type of information could actually help us predict outbreaks better and has lots of implications for how we manage these systems,” Prather said.
Prather discovered that grasshoppers detect the amount of calcium in grass and actually eat ones with specific levels of the micro-nutrient. She also found a correlation between the level of micro-nutrients in plants and the number of grasshoppers in that area, according to UD.
With the National Science Foundation grant, Prather is testing her hypothesis using every combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, potassium and sodium across nearly 29 acres at the University of Houston Coastal Center.