Project – Elephant Dung – Title 2-4

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].

Project – Elephant dung (16 of 25)
Project – Elephant dung (10 of 25)
Project – Elephant dung (13 of 25)

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] .

Project – Elephant dung (21 of 25)
Project – Elephant dung (20 of 25)

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].

Project – Elephant dung (19 of 25)
Project – Elephant dung (18 of 25)

[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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                                          ©David Bodenham 

                                      ©David Bodenham 

                         © David Bodenham 

© David Bodenham                                  

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