Dung beetle monitoring and field experimentation in New Zealand

27 November 2020
Simon Fowler, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, Lincoln NZ

Last year, four field sites were selected for monitoring dung beetle activity in a range of New Zealand’s soil and stock types. While COVID-19 impacted progress, the experiment has advanced well, and has produced some intriguing results. 

Our DBEE project partners at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, in New Zealand have been active in developing field research and lysimetry studies with dung beetles in recent years. Simon Fowler and collaborators, with help from Dung Beetle Innovations NZ, introduced dung beetles as part of the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers Project to two sites in the North Island. We report on their research progress to date. Simon is conducting these experiments in conjunction with Australian DBEE colleagues. 

Table 1: Dung beetle species released at the DBEE field sites in New Zealand, 2019–2020

Dung beetle species

Region in NZ

No. sites

Total beetles released

Onthophagous binodis




Onthophagous taurus




Copris incertus




Geotrupes spiniger




Onitis alexis









In New Zealand, four field sites were selected in 2019 for monitoring dung beetle activity, with one intensive site for field mesocosm experiments (figure 1, table 2).  These sites were selected over the North Island, and represent predominant NZ soil types and a range of stock types. They include areas with established imported dung beetles (2–4 species), and the well-established tunneling species Copris incertus (figure 2), a  Mexican dung beetle, as well as those recently released species. 


New Zealand field sites for monitoring
Figure 1: The field sites for the DBEE project in New Zealand. Filled dot = intensive site with mesocosm experiments; half-filled dots = low intensity monitoring sites.



Pitfall trapping


Pitfall trapping is currently used to monitor dung beetle populations at all field sites across Australia and New Zealand. As shown in the photo, 1 kg dung is placed in a mesh bag and any dung beetles that are attracted to it collect in the preserving fluid in the tray below the mesh.


Identifying the dung beetles collected in pitfall traps
Mary-Anne Goodin, MSc student at the University of Waikato, NZ, identifies the dung beetles collected in pitfall traps from all sites to species level


Table 2: Field sites in the DBEE project in New Zealand

Field site/soil type

Farm type(s)

Stock types

Soil type

(west coast, hill country)

Beef/sheep grazing

Beef cattle, sheep

Allophanic soil

Shelly Beach, Kaipara (west coast, coastal)

Beef grazing

Beef cattle

Over sand dunes – variable, mostly sandy loam (not ultic)

Miromiro Farm
(central North Island)

Mostly dairy

Mostly dairy cattle

Pumice soils, forestry conversion, so soils disturbed

Mahia Peninsula
(drier, east coast hill country sites)

Mixed, depending on property

Beef cattle, sheep, some deer

Thin pumice over allophanic – mixed



The Mexican dung beetle, Copris incertus
Figure 2: The Mexican dung beetle Copris incertus, first released in New Zealand in the 1950s, is now well-established in some parts of North Island. There is interest in bringing additional beetles of this species to Australia.
Photo: Birgit Rhodes, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.