Nitrogen fertilizer decreases survival and reproduction of female locusts by increasing plant protein to carbohydrate ratio

Marion Le Gall, Mira L. Word, Natalia Thompson, Alioune Beye, Arianne J. Cease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Nitrogen limitation theory predicts that terrestrial plants should benefit from nitrogen inputs and that herbivores should benefit from subsequent higher plant protein contents. While this pattern has generally been supported, some herbivorous insects have shown preference and higher performance on low protein (p), high carbohydrate (c) diets as juveniles. However, little is known about the effects on reproduction in adults. Using nitrogen fertilizer, we demonstrate that high plant p:c has negative effects on Senegalese locust (Orthoptera: Oedaeleus senegalensis) reproduction and survival in an agroecological setting. For this, we measured p:c in millet plants Pennisetum glaucum that received two levels of fertilizer (high and moderate) and a control, then we caged locusts on these plants for 2 weeks. In the laboratory, we gave locusts the choice between untreated millet leaves and leaves that received one of the two fertilization treatment. We found that fertilization increased p:c ratio in a concentration-dependent fashion. We counted the number of locusts alive over the course of 2 weeks and showed that fewer females survived on fertilized plants than on control plants. Females that ate plants from the high fertilization treatment laid lighter eggs. Finally, we showed that female locusts prefer unfertilized plants to plants with a high p:c. We hypothesize that this pattern will apply broadly to species that have extensive carbohydrate needs, such as long-distance migrators. Because many ecological studies focus primarily on nitrogen or protein, and fail to consider carbohydrates, this study has important implications for how ecologists consider nutrient limitation of primary consumers in ecosystems globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2214-2221
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • N-limitation
  • carbohydrates
  • herbivory
  • locust
  • macronutrients
  • nutrition
  • protein
  • reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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