Behavior of geladas and other endemic wildlife during a desert locust outbreak at Guassa, Ethiopia: ecological and conservation implications

Abstract

Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) outbreaks have occurred repeatedly throughout recorded history in the Horn of Africa region, devastating crops and contributing to famines. In June 2009, a desert locust swarm invaded the Guassa Plateau, Ethiopia, a large and unusually intact Afroalpine tall-grass ecosystem, home to important populations of geladas (Theropithecus gelada), Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis), thick-billed ravens (Corvus crassirostris), and other Ethiopian or Horn of Africa endemics. During the outbreak and its aftermath, we observed many animals, including geladas, ravens, and a wolf, feeding on locusts in large quantities. These observations suggest surprising flexibility in the normally highly specialized diets of geladas and wolves, including the potential for temporary but intensive insectivory during locust outbreaks. To our knowledge, Guassa is the highest elevation site (3,200–3,600 m) at which desert locusts, which require temperatures >20°C for sustained flight, have been reported. Continued monitoring will be necessary to determine whether the June 2009 outbreak was an isolated incident or part of an emerging pattern in the Ethiopian Highlands linked to global warming. The intensive consumption of desert locusts by geladas, wolves, and ravens during the outbreak at Guassa raises concerns about pesticide-based locust control strategies and potential unintended adverse effects on endemic and endangered wildlife.

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Acknowledgments

We thank CSU Fullerton, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Margot Marsh Foundation, Pittsburgh Zoo, and Primate Conservation Inc. for their financial support of our research at Guassa. We thank the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, Amhara Regional government, and Mehal Meda Woreda for permission to conduct this research. Zelealem Ashenafi provided advice about working at Guassa and Badiloo Muluyee, Ngadaso Subsebey, Bantilka Tessema, Shoafera Tessema, Talegeta Wolde-Hanna, and Tasso Wudimagegn provided logistical support. Tyler Barry, Barret Goodale, Jeff Kerby, Laura Lee, Niina Nurmi, and Vivek Venkataraman assisted with the gelada research. Allan Showler shared helpful insights into desert locust biology. We thank an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on the manuscript. Our research was entirely noninvasive and satisfied the legal requirements of Ethiopia.

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Correspondence to Peter J. Fashing.

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Fashing, P.J., Nguyen, N. & Fashing, N.J. Behavior of geladas and other endemic wildlife during a desert locust outbreak at Guassa, Ethiopia: ecological and conservation implications. Primates 51, 193–197 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-010-0194-6

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Keywords

  • Desert locust
  • Diet
  • Ethiopian wolf
  • Gelada
  • Global warming
  • Guassa
  • Locust control
  • Pesticide
  • Thick-billed raven