Current paradigms generally assume that increased plant nitrogen (N) should enhance herbivore performance by relieving protein limitation, increasing herbivorous insect populations. We show, in contrast to this scenario, that host plant N enrichment and high-protein artificial diets decreased the size and viability of Oedaleus asiaticus, a dominant locust of north Asian grasslands. This locust preferred plants with low N content and artificial diets with low protein and high carbohydrate content. Plant N content was lowest and locust abundance highest in heavily livestock-grazed fields where soils were N-depleted, likely due to enhanced erosion. These results suggest that heavy livestock grazing and consequent steppe degradation in the Eurasian grassland promote outbreaks of this locust by reducing plant protein content.
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