Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus)
Once widespread across southern Africa, the species is now restricted to a narrow range in South Africa; the largest population which is found in Addo Elephant National Park [i]. Operaterating best in temperatures of 18-26°C and a relatively high humidity, this species is a generalist dung feeder, but has a preference toward elephant and buffalo dung.
Unfortunately, habitat destruction has reduced its range significantly. This coupled with a low fecundity (1-2 broods per year!), preference for dense, undisturbed biotopes and its slow, flightless dispersal, means the species is now listed as threatened by the IUCN.
The species is unique amongst ball-rolling (telecoprid) dung beetle, as the female initiates collection and ball-rolling process.The species also has the ability to store water within its body, saving water during arid periods [ii].
African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)
There has been little research into the relationships between dung beetles and mammals [vi]. At Addo, Elephant reintroduction has most likely contributed to the continuing existence of the beetle, however, their reintroduction has lead to other effects, such as overgrazing and disturbance within the park [vii] .
It is now understood that dung beetle species provide key ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, bioturbation, hydrology, plant growth enhancement, secondary seed dispersal pollination, trophic regulation and parasite control [iii] [iv] [v]. There is also evidence that dung beetle could be used to regenerate soils in areas that have undergone heavy industrial activity.
Dung beetle species generally have a preference towards certain mammal species. Co-declines of mammals and dung beetles go hand in hand. This has huge cascading effects on tropical ecosystems, as many of the ecosystem services dung beetle provide, disappear [vi].
[i] Cole, K., Scholtz, C., Kryger, U. and Tukker, R. (2006). Biology and ecology of Circellium bacchus (Fabricius 1781) (Coleoptera Scarabaeidae), a South African dung beetle of conservation concern. Tropical Zoology, 19, pp.185-207.
[ii] Byrne, M. (2003). The role of the subelytral spiracles in respiration in the flightless dung beetle Circellium bacchus. Journal of Experimental Biology, 206(8), pp.1309-1318.
[iii] Nichols, E., Spector, S., Louzada, J., Larsen, T., Amezquita, S. and Favila, M. (2008). Ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by Scarabaeinae dung beetles. Biological Conservation, 141(6), pp.1461-1474.
[iv] Brown, J., Scholtz, C., Janeau, J., Grellier, S. and Podwojewski, P. (2010). Dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) can improve soil hydrological properties. Applied Soil Ecology, 46(1), pp.9-16.
[v] Badenhorst, J., Dabrowski, J., Scholtz, C. and Truter, W. (2018). Dung beetle activity improves herbaceous plant growth and soil properties on confinements simulating reclaimed mined land in South Africa. Applied Soil Ecology, 132, pp.53-59.
[vi] Raine, E. and Slade, E. (2019). Dung beetle–mammal associations: methods, research trends and future directions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1897), p.20182002.
[vii] Kakembo, V., Smith, J. and Kerley, G. (2015). A Temporal Analysis of Elephant-Induced Thicket Degradation in Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 68(6), pp.461-469.
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