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A dung beetle.
The feeding and breeding activities of dung beetles help to control problems caused by large accumulations of dung.
Photo by Mr David McClenaghan, CSIRO.

Exotic dung beetle solution to dung problem in Australia

Between 1969-84, CSIRO Entomology introduced exotic dung beetle species to clear pastures of accumulated livestock dung.

CSIRO Entomology is no longer involved in dung beetle research, although there is still considerable interest in the subject.

Around Australia the good work of collection and redistribution continues through people such as Landcare groups, farmers and individuals with a passion for the beetles.

A problem caused by introduced livestock

The average cow drops 10-12 dung pads per day, fouling pastures and creating enormous breeding grounds for flies. A single dung pad can produce up to 3 000 flies within a fortnight.

Although Australia has several hundred species of native dung beetles that make use of the fibrous dung produced by kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and other native mammals, they are unable to cope with the large quantities of dung produced by introduced livestock.

The activity of dung beetles disrupts fly breeding sites and recycles soil nutrients.

About dung beetles

Dung beetles use dung:

  • for breeding
  • as a food supply for both adults and larvae.

Most species build their nests under dung pads, building an extensive tunnel system up to 20 cm deep. They then lay their eggs in dung balls taken into the tunnels.

Others make dung balls which they roll away, often for many metres, before burying them in the ground.

Introduction to Australia

Between 1969-84, a team of CSIRO Entomology scientists, led by Dr George Bornemissza, introduced more than 50 species of dung beetles to Australia from Europe and Africa to deal with the dung problem.

In order to prevent the accidental introduction of stock and pasture diseases, beetle eggs which had been laid in sterile facilities, were imported and quarantined in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, before being released.

By 1989 26 species of dung beetle had become well established, some having built up large populations.

In the mid 1980s, the Western Australian State Government funded a laboratory in southern Spain to facilitate the introduction of four species of spring-breeding dung beetles into Western Australia.

From 1987-93, the Dairy Research and Development Corporation funded a re-distribution project. The aim was to seed climatically suitable dairy areas of southern and south-eastern Australia with dung beetles, thereby speeding up their spread.

During the summer months of 1994-95, members of the CSIRO Double Helix Club took part in a Dung Beetle Crusade and collected beetles from around Australia. These beetles were then identified by CSIRO Entomology and the results included in a report on dung beetle distribution.

Dung beetle benefits

The activity of dung beetles disturbs and buries fly breeding sites and recycles nutrients into the soil.

Dung beetle activity not only buries fly breeding sites, it also releases the nutrients locked up in the dung pads and returns them to the ground. This action increases water penetration into soil, which reduces run-off and increases root penetration and soil aeration.

Other benefits that have resulted from the importation of exotic dung beetles into Australia are:

  • increased pasture productivity
  • reduction in numbers of dung breeding buffalo flies and bush flies
  • live-weight increases in cattle in Northern Australia due to reduced buffalo fly strike
  • conservation of soil nitrogen through reduction of loss of faecal nitrogen.

Read more about Dr Bornemissza’s research: Dung beetle hero in birthday honours

  • Tyndale-Biscoe M. 2001. Common dung beetles in pastures of south-eastern Australia. CSIRO PUBLISHING, Melbourne, Australia. 71 pp.
  • Tyndale-Bisoce M. 1996. Australia's introduced dung beetles: original releases and distributions. CSIRO Entomology Technical Report. No. 62. 149 pp.
 
 

Fast facts

  • CSIRO scientists introduced dung beetles from Europe and Africa to deal with the dung problem caused by Australia’s introduced livestock
  • By 1989, 26 species of exotic dung beetles had become well established in Australia
  • Dung beetle activity destroys fly breeding sites, reduces fouling of pasture, recycles nutrients and aerates soil

Contact Information

CSIRO Enquiries
Phone: 1300 363 400*
Alt Phone: 61 3 9545 2176 
Fax: 61 3 9545 2175 
*local call within Australia

Location

CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences - Black Mountain
Black Mountain Laboratories
Clunies Ross Street
Black Mountain ACT 2601
Australia

GPO Box 1700
Canberra ACT 2601
Australia