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Dung Beetles take on Sustainability

By Gayle South, a Local Landcare Facilitator with the Ovens Landcare Network

When it comes to sustainability and reducing our impact on the planet we often think about what we can do as individuals, what are we willing or able to change to reduce the size of our ecological foot print.

There is one species that punches well above its weight when it comes to sustainable living and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. It is the ultimate recycler of a waste product and in doing so helps to maintain water quality. Its lifestyle assists in drought proofing theagriculture land and promotes pasture growth. It is responsible for increased soil carbon storage and assists in soil amelioration, and finally it has been instrumental in reducing the bush fly population through out Australia.

The dung beetle is a tireless worker for the environment, needing no more than the dung from our farmed stock to fulfil its life needs. Up until 50 years ago Australia had no dung beetlescapable of processing the 240 million tons of available cattle dung each year. This resulted incrude dung littering farming land, excessive numbers of the black bush flies across the nationand a need to find and introduce suitable species into AustraliaAustralians native dung beetles process indigenous species dung, predominantly marsupial, which are pellet like and dryer.

The ensuing 50 years has seen the introduction of many dung beetles. There is not one beetle that will bury all types of dung, work all year round in all weather and soil conditions. In North East Victoria there are fairly well established introduced species, some are localizedand yet to colonise their expected distribution area.

Favourable conditions this past summer saw populations of beetles, predominantly 2 small species, processing dung pads over night, but it is the recently introduced deeper burrowing beetles that have untapped potential for graziers and horticulturalists. Often dung beetles are the missing component from many agriculture systems.  

These tireless workers play a major role in farming practices but on a global scale theircontribution to a sustainable ecosystem is immense.

If only we could live our lives so green.

The Ovens Landcare Network currently has a dung beetle program establishing winter active deep burrowing style Bubas bison dung beetles and is looking at starting a trial with dung beetles on newly planted persimmons.