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Why do we need dung beetles?

There are 23 species of dung beetle introduced to Australia. Picture: Shutterstock

Across Australia there are about 27 million cattle and 104 million sheep. A single cow can produce nine to 14 tonnes of dung per year. That equates to 27 million litres of dung per day.

That's a lot of poo and, because these animals aren't native, there are a limited number of insects that can deal with it.

It also represents a huge resource of nutrients that can be recycled into the soil. For a heard of 100 cattle, their dung can produce 387 kilograms of nitrogen and 108 kilograms of phosphorous per year.

When dung is left on the surface, nutrients can leach into rivers and streams, degrading water and promoting algal blooms.

They smother the grass and provide an ideal place for breeding flies which are misery for sheep when they become fly-blown. They can certainly wreck the Australian barbecue.

We are lucky that this is exactly the sort of problem that dung beetles can solve. They want nothing more than to drag dung into tunnels in the soil where it returns nutrients and stores carbon.

A single dung beetle can bury dung 250 times its own weight in a single night.

Other beetles, known as rollers, roll dung into balls, which they use as a food source and breeding chambers.

These beetles can roll up to 50 times their weight. One species can pull 1141 times their own body weight - the equivalent of an average person pulling six double-decker buses full of people.

The aerated soil made by tunnelling beetles provides habitat and food supply for earthworms and soil microbes.

Tunnels can be more than 300mm deep, encouraging water to penetrate rather than washing over the top and into streams.

These activities bring life back into the soil, returning productivity to the land while reducing the need for artificial fertilisers.

This is particularly important because world phosphorus reserves are being depleted and we cannot produce food without it.

There are 23 species of dung beetle introduced to Australia, each suited to different climate zones and habitats.

SOILCAM provides expert advice to find those suitable for a particular farm and identify species that are already there.

Listen to the Fuzzy Logic Science Show at 11am Sundays on 2XX 98.3FM.

Send your questions to AskFuzzy@Zoho.com Twitter@FuzzyLogicSci

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Dive Deeper:
Bee highways: how they work and why we need them
Hundreds of miles of bee highways are being created across the UK to halt the drastic decline in the insect’s…
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Why we need Black abortion doulas more than ever
When Black women decide to have an abortion, the resistence to their decision is often racist.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
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Get all your news in one place