Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Beetle care a dung deal

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Shaun Ossinger, Denmark Bulletin

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan has announced a grant of about $35,000 to help colonise winter-active dung beetles in the Wilson Inlet catchment.

Dung beetle talk
Shaun Ossinger talks dung beetles to Jane Kelsbie and Alannah MacTiernan. Photo: Denmark Bulletin

Part of the natural ecosystem of cattle, dung beetles have evolved alongside the animal throughout Europe and Africa, breaking down cattle dung and recycling nutrients.

Studies in South Africa have shown that dung beetles return more than 90 per cent of faecal nitrogen excreted by bovines to the soil.

But when the first cattle were imported to Australia dung beetles were left behind.

Native Australian dung beetles prefer the macropod poo with which they evolved.

Different species of dung beetle operate at different times of year.

South Africa has more than 800 species, all of which work to their own soil preference and seasonality.

CSIRO has managed to establish more than 20 species throughout Australia over the past decades.

In the Wilson Inlet catchment dung beetles get full seasonal coverage over summer resulting in a drop in fly numbers in late December.

While ibis and foxes predate on dung beetles, once a colony is established, their distribution is limited more by incompatible chemical use (certain drenches), lack of dung or native forests (exotic beetles prefer grasslands).

There are no active species in winter which coincides with the majority of nutrients being exported from grazing properties into the Wilson Inlet – more than 90 per cent.

WICC will work with Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers, which are part of a $23 million dollar Meat and Livestock Australia program that has been importing and rearing winter and spring-active dung beetles.

Wilson Inlet Catchment Committee will conduct comprehensive monitoring to identify spatial and seasonal gaps of beetles.

Four mass rearing nurseries will be established to bolster local numbers as these new species are distributed to the gaps across the catchment.

WICC will call for expressions of interest from farmers to take on new dung beetle colonies in 2022/23.

Denmark Bulletin 11 November 2021

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 11 November 2021.

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