Neurophysiological correlates of swarming behaviour in desert locusts.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour


Desert locusts Schistocerca gregaria are grasshoppers that can swarm. This defining characteristic of locusts - swarm formation or 'phase change' - comes about because their behaviour, morphology and physiology change in response to environmental cues. At low population densities, locusts avoid each other and do not swarm, but as populations grow, contact between the animals causes them to begin to actively aggregate: a process called gregarisation that leads to a spiralling population growth and the formation of vast coherent and devastating swarms containing millions or billions of individuals. The remarkable behavioural alterations must come about through modifications (plasticity) of neuronal activity and synaptic properties, but surprisingly little is known about the pathways or mechanisms involved. In this project we will use a range of techniques, including in vivo electrophysiology, to examine the neurophysiological correlates of environmentally-induced behavioural plasticity in this powerful model system. How does the control of posture and locomotion differ between swarming and non-swarming locusts? How quickly do the differences arise during swarm formation? Do particular stress-related molecules ('heat shock proteins') regulate variability in limb control and/or the changes that occur during swarm formation?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M01116X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1915119 Studentship BB/M01116X/1 02/10/2017 30/09/2021 Brendan O'Connor
Description Travel Grant
Amount £500 (GBP)
Organisation Physiological Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Global
Start 05/2019 
End 05/2019
Description University of Leicester Brain Awareness Day 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Members of the public and local sixth form students attended an afternoon/evening event to learn about neuroscience/psychology research concerning the brain. I demonstrated techniques from my PhD to record from locust motor neurons in vivo.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019