CSIRO leads beetle imports from France

Dr Valerie Caron, CSIRO Canberra

In the CSIRO European Laboratory in Montpellier, France entomologists are carefully assessing North African and European dung beetles for their suitability for exporting to Australia.

As part of the DBEE project, CSIRO is responsible for the importation of new species to fill some of the seasonal and geographical gaps in Australia’s dung beetle distribution.

Two new species and one new strain will be introduced. Each potential new species needs to be collected from the field and studied under laboratory conditions for its efficiency, and effective rearing protocols need to be developed.

CSIRO researchers Elissa Rice, Dr Valerie Caron, Patrick Gleeson. Source: CSIRO

CSIRO researchers Elissa Rice, Dr Valerie Caron, Patrick Gleeson. Source: CSIRO

This work occurs at the CSIRO European Laboratory where CSIRO has dedicated staff. If a species is shown to have the right characteristics, it will be considered for importation into Australia.

Australia has some of the toughest importation requirements in the world and there are no exceptions made for dung beetles. After the appropriate permits have been received, adult dung beetles can be imported into a quarantine facility in Canberra where they will be reared. Only sterilised eggs can be released from quarantine. These can be reared in environmental chambers and subsequent generations can be synchronised with the Southern Hemisphere seasons. Beetles can then be passed to mass rearing facilities in other parts of the country.

In 2018 a new Moroccan strain of O. vacca was imported in quarantine, and after rearing in the CSIRO quarantine laboratories, is due to be mass reared at various rearing facilities for multiple releases over the next four years.

The egg sterilisation process and rearing of the first generation outside quarantine is critical and requires considerable care and experience. Research has shown that mother dung beetles pass down their microbiome (the population of microbes living on and in an organism) to their offspring by laying their eggs on pedestals made of special faeces.

Newly-hatched larvae eat the pedestal, inoculating their gut with their mother’s microbiome . When sterilising eggs, the entire microbiome is removed. A lack of microbiome can impact beetle development and reduces fitness of the adults. CSIRO is doing research to better understand the role of the microbiome in dung beetles and determine how to minimise the effects of egg sterilisation.

The CSIRO team includes Dr Valerie Caron, who leads the international biocontrol team from Canberra. In France, Jose Serin and Alberto Zamprogna lead the technical work and work closely with Professor Jean-Pierre Lumaret, a global expert in dung beetles. Three technical staff also work in Canberra on the project, including Patrick Gleeson, Saleta Perez Vila and Elissa Rice. Pat is the only person in Australia who has worked on all three of the most recent dung beetle importation programs (1990s, 2011-2015 and 2018-2021).

Liam O'Neill