Dung beetles are the quiet achievers of modern agriculture production, and now it’s hoped a partnership between farmers and Landcare will see the winter-active species become more prolific in NSW soil.
- A dozen farms are hosting dung beetle nurseries to hand-rear more of a winter-active species
- The majority of imported dung beetles in Australia are summer-active
- While there are nearly 500 native species, these have not evolved to bury livestock excrement
A dozen farms around the Central Tablelands are taking part in the project to establish more of the European Bubas bison species in the area.
While a handful of local farms had detected it, the species’ presence is not widespread.
It’s hoped introducing around 40 beetles to each property — and effectively hand-rearing them in timber ‘nurseries’ built by the Cowra Men’s Shed from reclaimed pallets — will provide a better strike rate than the typical method of releasing 1,000 beetles in a paddock.
Expert Dr Bernard Doube said the Bubas bison was winter-active, and it is hoped they will complement the majority of the 23 introduced species in Australia, which are summer-active.
The project is in conjunction with research being conducted to find autumn-active species to eventually be also rolled out to help combat livestock excrement, which native species are not really equipped to process.
“My prediction is, eventually, the whole district will be covered and we’ll get dung burial really through from April right through to September,” Dr Doube said.
He warned that patience would be needed because it had taken “20 years for Bubas bison to become widespread across the Fleurieu Peninsula (in South Australia)”.
However, he noted, the introduction of special beetle nurseries — with their hinged, mesh lids — would speed things up.
“So, I expect it can probably happen more quickly here, because we now know what to do to make it spread more quickly. But it certainly is not going to happen overnight.”
Some properties will also host the Geotrupes spiniger beetle, a spring-active variety not yet tried in the region.
Dr Doube said the most obvious useful feature of dung beetles was their ability to remove the food, and egg-laying source, for bush flies.
But there were also many other features, including their ability to move nitrates and phosphates to below the soil’s surface, which prevents those substances entering waterways, leading to algal blooms. The beetles also contribute to carbon sequestration.
Dr Doube said there was also potential for reducing use of chemicals on farms, with beetles digesting the host for parasitic gut worms in horses, sheep and cattle.
“It may well be that in the future, it’ll be largely unnecessary to use chemicals to control gut worms,” he added.
Beef producer Megan Rowlands was among around 50 farmers from 12 properties hosting beetles who attended a workshop at Neville, near Blayney, this week to pick up their stock of beetles and learn how best to care for them.
“It’ll be interesting to see … whether or not we get a good response of developing lots of dung beetles, so that they can do their work, more work for them and less work for us hopefully,” she said.
Canowindra beef farmer Wendy Bowman said she had previously released other species of dung beetles, but was keen to add Bubas bison on her property.
“All we’ve done is we’ve had colonies delivered and we’ve put those out into the open, with little handfuls on top of dung piles,” Ms Bowman said.
“Another mouth to feed! … I’ve got a whole new section of livestock under my care.”