Dung beetles the quiet achievers
by Robyn McLean, GippsDairy
Dung Beetles play a critical role in grazing ecosystems. By burying dung in the soil, the beetles improve the flow of water, nutrients and carbon into the root zones of pastures, improving pasture productivity. By burying dung, the beetles prevent build-up of flies and parasites which in turn improves animal health, productivity and grazing conditions.
Improving soils and reducing nutrient run-off into waterways
During the process of burying dung and moisture into the soil, dung beetles develop tunnel systems under dung pads. This improves the physical structure of the soil by:
- Increasing aeration
- Incorporating organic matter into the soil profile
- Reducing compaction
- Bringing subsoils to the soil surface
These tunnels can vary in length, depending on the soil type and beetle species, from 10 centimetres to 1 metre. These tunnels are often lined with dung and the beetles construct brood balls (small balls) from dung in which they lay their eggs.
Controlling livestock parasites
When livestock are affected by parasites, their dung carries worm eggs. The larvae that hatch from the eggs can be consumed and these, otherwise healthy livestock, can be infected. Active, rapidly-colonising dung beetles can make fast work of worm-ridden pats. As the dung beetles consume dung, they kill the worm eggs and make the dung less favourable to the growth of worm larvae, giving farmers a natural parasite control strategy.
Controlling fly populations
Healthy dung beetle populations on your property can provide a long term solution to fly management. If you have a problem with flies during the warmer months in your region, it might pay to look at the ground for the solution. As with parasites, dung beetles inhibit the fly breeding cycle.
During the process of burying dung and moisture, they also reduce fly breeding sites. Dung beetles do not just play a vital role in soil health, they also help control flies.
Gippsland dung beetle activity
Dung beetles are most active in Gippsland in summer, autumn and spring. There are four main active dung beetle species during this period across Gippsland. These are, Onthophagus taurus, Onthophagus binodis, Euoniticellus fulvus and Onitis alexis.
Volunteers of the South Gippsland Landcare Network are currently in the process of setting up nurseries to increase the numbers of Bubas bison. If you are interested in participating in this project or if you would like any more information on dung beetles, contact Robyn McLean at GippsDairy Robyn.Mclean@gippsdairy.com.au