In Senegal, West Africa, soils are a vital resource for livelihoods and food security in smallholder farming communities. Low nitrogen (N) soils pose obvious challenges for crop production but may also, counterintuitively, promote the abundance of agricultural pests like the Senegalese locust, Oedaleus senegalensis. In this study I investigated how the abundance of locusts and grasshoppers are impacted by soil fertility through plant nutrients and how these variables change across land use types. We worked in two rural farming villages in the Kaffrine region of Senegal. Overall, there was little variation in soil properties and an agricultural landscape low in soil organic matter (SOM) and inorganic soil nitrogen. I corroborated that SOM is a significant driver of soil inorganic N, which had a positive relationship to plant N content. Of the management practices we surveyed, fallowing fields was important for soil nutrient restoration and years spent fallow was significantly correlated to inorganic soil N and SOM. O. senegalensis was least abundant in groundnut areas where plant N was highest. Additionally, I found a significant negative correlation between O. senegalensis abundance and plant N, suggesting that plant nutrients are an important driver of their populations. Grasshoppers, excluding O. senegalensis, were more numerous in grazing areas and fallow areas, perhaps due to a higher diversity of ecological niches and host plants. These results connect land use, soil, and vegetation to herbivores and suggest that improving soil fertility could be used as an alternative to pesticides to keep locusts at bay and improve crop yields.
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