Frequently asked questions
Our project team have fielded a lot of questions. Click on some of the common ones below to see the answer.
The Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers (DBEE) project is a five-year project supported by MLA through funding from the Australian Government’s Rural Research & Development for Profit program. The project has two key objectives:
Fill seasonal and geographic gaps in the distribution of beetles across southern Australia
Quantify the benefits dung beetles provide for primary producers
Dung beetles bury dung. This is important for managing flies and parasites. Unburied dung provides bush flies and parasites with an ideal breeding environment. Dung beetles move the dung around and leave behind dry fragments of dung which is less suitable for growth of fly maggots as well as the soil-borne parasites that infest sheep and cow intestines.
The goal of the DBEE project is to have an Australia-wide “network” of dung beetles, working across all seasons and regions to keep pastures clean and well-fertilised. This will be achieved by:
Conducting a nation-wide survey of dung beetles
Importing and/or mass rearing three novel Mediterranean strains or species and two endemic species
Determining the economic value of dung beetles for sheep and beef producers and understanding the impact of dung beetles in the ecosystem
Nearly all dung beetles are scarab beetles that feed on dung and are members of the family Scarabaeidae. The project is focused on beetles that bury dung and lay eggs in dung balls for their larvae to feed on. They have the ability to bury large amounts of dung every day, which has many benefits for both producers and the environment.
Unburied dung can take months to break down. Cattle can leave up to 12 dung pats each day, which means much of the pasture surface will not be suitably grazed. By burying livestock dung (Australian livestock produce some 80-million tonnes a year) the beetles can improve soil, reduce water runoff, reduce bush fly populations and livestock parasites, sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve pasture growth.
Imported dung beetles have shown to increase pasture growth in South Australia by 27% over a two year period. By burying the dung in the soil, the beetles improved the flow of water, nutrients and carbon into the rooting zones of pastures, leading to improved productivity.
Underground. Adult beetles mate and lay eggs in the dung balls they make and bury. These are called ‘brood balls’. At the end of the season the adults die. Inside the brood ball the egg turns into a larva, and when mature they emerge to the surface as adult dung beetles and start the process again. Different species of dung beetles are active during different seasons.
Australian native dung beetle species generally prefer kangaroo and other native animal dung that is drier and pelleted. The imported species specialise in burial of cow and sheep dung and are much better suited to the task. In addition, the newly imported species are active in spring, when few species of dung beetle are active. Filling this ‘spring gap’ is an important objective of the DBEE project.
The legacy of the DBEE project will be the establishment of effective pathways for beetle importation and distribution so that more dung beetle species can be introduced. This includes ensuring survival in quarantine, training scientists, developing the right infrastructure for mass rearing and creating a model of community involvement. The methods developed as a part of this project will be used for cost effective future importation of other dung beetle species.
CSIRO have introduced approximately 50 new species of dung beetles into Australia over a thirty year period and of these, 23 species have established. The survey aims to discover how far various species have spread, the climates and soil types they prefer and identify gaps that can be filled by other dung beetle species.
We’d like to know that too. If interested, you can join the dung beetle project. Use the app to find out how to collect samples, take photographs and get your dung beetles identified. Some regions throughout Australia will have monitoring sites that are regularly checked. This information will help us to generate an updated online database and mapping tool.
Probably. Different dung beetle species are active at different times of the year. This project aims to distribute beetles throughout Australia so that there is dung burial all year. A dung beetle identification smartphone app (created by the DBEE project team) can assist with surveillance of beetles to be better informed.
The results of the survey will determine where beetles reared with the DBEE project will be released. Release sites will be chosen based on the best conditions for each beetle species and where additional diversity is needed. The aim is to deliver beetles to areas of high impact.
The effectiveness of dung burial depends on the species and the location; some sites have observed extensive dung burial within 5 years of beetle release while others need a decade after release to become well established.