The tiny beetle that’s being watched very closely
DUNG beetles are known as nature's often-unseen waste disposal stars, but will now be in the spotlight with a survey being conducted across the region.
The Border Ranges - Richmond Valley Landcare Network's spokesman Gavin Tinning said the extended drought and hot spring conditions of the past year have affected dung beetle activity in the Kyogle area.
Supported by the national Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers program, the organisation has been monitoring dung beetle activity on properties in the Upper Richmond River catchment since April 2019.
Previous surveys in Upper Richmond River catchment have shown that introduced dung beetles are most productive in the months January to March.
Activity outside of these months is dependent on soil temperature and moisture.
Mr Tinning said a long-term annual survey involving Wollongbar TAFE students has identified 27 introduced and native species active on the NSW north coast, with at least 10 summer active species found in the Kyogle area.
To date, no winter or early spring active species have been successfully established, unlike parts of southern Australia where large, winter active species are becoming more commonplace on pastures.
Mr Tinning said dung beetles serve several essential ecological functions.
"Digging aerates the soil and transfers nutrients back into the ground by releasing the nutrients in the dung," he said.
"Breaking down manure also controls buffalo and bush flies from breeding."
Mr Tinning said most active species encountered this year have been smaller species, which he believes may show that they are "more resilient to extremes in climatic conditions".
He said the Network has established a dung beetle nursery to assess the viability of a spring-active species, recently introduced in Australia to fill a gap in dung beetle activity.
However, unusually hot, dry conditions in 2019 may have influenced the experiment, and he said the Network hopes to repeat this on-farm research during the spring months.
The survey project is supported by North Coast Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program aimed at improving soil health.
If you are interested in finding out what species of dung beetle you have on your farm, you can download the MyDungBeetleReporter app, or go to https://www.dungbeetles.com.au/dung-beetles/what-species-are-near-you