May 01, 2012

Doctoral graduate seeks solution to global dilemma

Posted: May 01, 2012
While working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, Arianne Cease witnessed a locust invasion that devastated the local farmers. Determined to tackle this global dilemma, Cease embarked on a new research path and enrolled in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

While working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, Arianne Cease witnessed a locust invasion that devastated the local farmers. Determined to tackle this global dilemma, Cease embarked on a new research path and enrolled in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in 2007. She graduates this spring with a doctorate in biology.

During major outbreaks, locusts can swarm over 20 percent of the Earth’s land surface, decimating crops in more than 60 countries and affecting the livelihood of one out of every 10 people.

Cease’s search for an ecologically sound and sustainable method of preventing outbreaks has led to international collaboration and a surprising discovery that resulted in media attention and the publication of one of her dissertation chapters in the journal Science.

“This has been an incredible journey from science to foreign travel to developing lifelong friendships,” she says. “ASU has opened many doors, enabled me to pursue my passion … and this is only the beginning.”

Working with Jon Harrison, an internationally known insect physiologist and professor in the School of Life Sciences (SOLS), was her primary motivation for joining ASU, says Cease. As her research expanded, she gained a second advisor – Jim Elser, a Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Sustainability Scientist.

“Together they make an incredible advising team,” she says. “Being a part of SOLS allowed me to interact and collaborate with a number of remarkable scientists, writers, staff members and students.”

Cease has traveled five times to the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station in China to conduct research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The most recent trip resulted in an unexpected discovery that led to a flurry of interviews from media outlets, including the BBC World Service and New York Times Green Blog.

“Field seasons are stories of teamwork, developing lifelong friendships, hard work and long hours, unexpected setbacks, and glorious celebrations when everyone’s determination pays off,” Cease says. “My collaborators were extremely patient with me as I learned Chinese, and we all became really good at charades in the meantime.”

Fieldwork also can offer setbacks, such as when Cease recently discovered that she had contracted tick-borne relapsing fever while working in the Peace Corps in West Africa. Undiagnosed for five years, she found herself frequently exhausted during her first three years of graduate study.

Awards, scholarships and research grants have been numerous during her time at ASU. Cease has been named an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) scholar for four years, a P.E.O. Scholar, received the National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Award, a University Graduate Fellowship and named a Distinguished Graduate Student by the ASU Faculty Women’s Association. Read more about her at ariannecease.org.

Prior to joining ASU, Cease grew up on a ranch in southern Oregon, received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Oregon State University, served as an sustainable agroforestry Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, and worked for two nonprofit organizations focused on sustainability and the environment in Oregon.

“I have had the incredible support of my parents, which has been unwavering throughout my life,” Cease says. “From an early age, they truly made me believe that I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough for it.”

After graduation, Cease will move to Sydney, Australia to begin a postdoc research position at the University of Sydney.

“In Australia, I will continue to study the physiology and ecology of locusts in China, as well as the Australian outback,” she says. “My long-term goal is to also conduct comparative studies of a closely-related locust species in Senegal to understand if what we have learned about the north Asian locust can be applied to other locusts and be used to help minimize outbreaks in Africa.”

Michele St George, michele.stgeorge@asu.edu
ASU Graduate Education