Dung beetles are the focus of a national research effort to turn 80 million tonnes of dung produced by Australian livestock each year into a multi-million dollar benefit to farmers.
The $23 million project will be led by Charles Sturt University through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.
Graham Centre Director Professor Michael Friend said: “This project aims to build our knowledge of the role that native and imported dung beetles provide in farming systems such as improving pasture and soil health and reducing the spread of flies and parasites.”
A CSIRO run program from 1964 to the mid 1990’s introduced dung beetles from southern Africa and southern Europe, with 23 species established in Australia.
CSU Professor Leslie Weston said this new project would develop information and pathways for dung beetles to be incorporated more widely into livestock production systems.
“A key part of this research is developing a regionally specific dung beetle service to farmers supported with extension and monitoring activites,” Professor Weston said.
“We’re also going to investigate the importation and mass rearing of three new species and two endemic species that should be more suited to conditions encountered across inland Australia.”
Professor Friend said: “Charles Sturt University and the Graham Centre are focused on providing meaningful research outcomes for industry and our rural communities. These beetles may be small but there’s potential for them to have greater economic, environmental and social benefits.”
The five-year project is supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, through funding from the Australian Government’s Rural Research & Development for Profit program.
MLA’s Sustainability Innovation Manager Mr Doug McNicholl said the project would enable producers to gain greater knowledge of and access to dung beetles that can provide significant productivity and environmental benefits on-farm.
“Dung beetles play a critical role in grazing ecosystems. By burying dung in the soil, the beetles improve the flow of water, nutrients and carbon into the root zones of pastures, which improves pasture productivity. And by disturbing the dung, they prevent build-up of flies and worms which in turn improves animal productivity.
“In addition to investigating new beetle strains and giving some existing species a population boost, the project will quantify the economic and environmental benefits beetles provide to the red meat industry. We’ll also learn more about how to look after these little critters so that they can continue to do their good work into the future.”
The research is led by CSU with eight partner organisations: The University of Western Australia, CSIRO, Manaaki Whenua –Landcare Research, The University of New England, Dung Beetle Solutions International, Warren Catchments Council, Mingenew-Irwin Group and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.