Forget the whales - save a dung beetle!
09:29 (GMT+2), Tue, 14 June 2011
Dung beetles contribute immensely to pasture health and farmers who protect them will reap the benefits, says Prof Clarke Scholtz, leading entomologist at Pretoria University's department of entomology and zoology.
Some 70% of all the dung in South Africa is removed and processed by dung beetles. Since the national cattle herd alone produces about 504 000t of dung daily – not counting that of smallstock and wildlife – these industrious little creatures are shifting a lot of dung!
Having evolved in concert with Africa’s large, dung-producing herbivores, these beetles are one of the major components of animal diversity in Africa and contribute immensely to pasture health. They burrow into the soil, dragging and burying the dung in hundreds of burrows and cavities. This fertilises and aerates the soil, and allows water to penetrate. Thus, treating dung beetles as a cornerstone of their farm ecosystem will stand farmers in good stead.
About 2 000 dung beetle species are known in Africa, of which 800 occur in Southern Africa. Any farm with good veld and stock management can house 60 to 100 species. Both the number and proportion of species are an indication of the system’s health. It takes a dung beetle expert to interpret this “health indicator” but lots of beetles in dung pads are a good sign.
Waste in dung
Farmers know that livestock management largely determines their animals’ health, but it also determines the health of their entire farm ecosystem. There’s a large array of chemical products at farmers’ disposal to protect their livestock from diseases and parasites. Unfortunately, these have undesirable effects on dung beetles and other organisms that may be important components of a healthy ecosystem.
Internal parasites like helminths and other worms are controlled with a wide variety of anthelminthic drugs. External parasites such as ticks are usually controlled by some form of dipping – a plunge dip, spray race, hand spray or pour-on dip. The latter usually have one of the synthetic pyrethroid compounds as their active ingredients. These usually have relatively low vertebrate toxicity but are, by nature of their purpose, extremely toxic to invertebrates.
E-mail Prof Clarke Scholtz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about protecting your beetles and the Australian manure scare in the 10 June 2011 issue.
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dung beetle, pasture, entomology, manure, australia