Without a paddle: where would we be without dung beetles?

January 15, 2019

Two papers have been recently published with our collaborative teams

Two papers have been recently published with our collaborative teams from different ends of the planet looking at the importance of dung beetles for the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend.  

In the first, Casey Sullivan showed how the effectiveness of community-led forest restoration in Yunnan Province in southern China, can be evaluated using dung beetles as indicators of positive change. Through her postgraduate research at Beijing Forestry University and with colleagues at University of Oxford, she sought to understand how the recovery of biodiversity under different forest management systems can be evaluated, using the intricate connections that dung beetles have with other animals and their role in basic ecosystem function, such as helping the formation of soils and seed dispersal. Added to that, she also undertook some pretty unpleasant fieldwork identifying the dung preferences of different species. By looking at those that solely feed on dung from elephant or clouded leopard for example, we can develop monitoring systems for key mammal species based on easier surveys of their associated dung beetles. Casey’s paper is available to read here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328816040_Evidence_of_forest_restoration_success_and_the_conservation_value_of_community-owned_forests_in_Southwest_China_using_dung_beetles_as_indicators 

In another piece of research work on dung beetles, involving some equally unpleasant fieldwork, Beth Raine examined the role of dung beetles within the threatened ecosystem of the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil. As part of her DPhil research at University of Oxford, and working with Embrapa Florestas and other partners in Brazil, she explored the complex network relationships between the dung beetles and the mammals that provide their food. Importantly, Beth highlighted the risks of extinction of not only the beetle species, but also the vital functions that they provide for the forest ecosystems. The extinction of these functions is not only important for the biodiversity and future of the forest, but also the ability of people to continue living there. Beth’s paper is available to read here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328972513_Extinctions_of_interactions_quantifying_a_dung_beetle-mammal_network 

If you are unconvinced about the importance of dung beetles, please have a look at this helpful short animation co-produced by Marwell’s long-term friend Eleanor Slade and her collaborators at TEDx: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSTNyHkde08