6. The biodiversity of dung beetles

6. The biodiversity of dung beetles

Dung beetles provide a window into biodiversity, while also clearly demonstrating the connection between the diversity of nature and its functioning.

In the video we learned about the diversity of dung beetles, why they are so diverse, and what they do in nature. We also wake up to the fact that without dung beetles the world would simply be browner.

Read more in scientific articles

Read more in scientific articles that reveal the importance of dung beetles in nature.

  1. National experiment performed by 4H youth, revealing the part that dung beetles play in removing dung from Finnish pastures.
    Original articleSummary
    Kaartinen, R., Hardwick, B. & Roslin, T. 2013. Using citizen scientists to measure an ecosystem service nationwide. Ecology 94: 2645-2652.

  2. Review article on the ecosystem services provided by dung beetles.
    Original article • Article in ResearchGate
    Nichols, E., Spector, S., Louzada, J., Larsen, T., Amezquita, S., Favila, M. E., & Network, T. S. R. (2008). Ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by Scarabaeinae dung beetles. Biological conservation, 141(6), 1461-1474.

Find out

There are as many dung beetle species in the world as there are bird species: about 10 000 of each. This means that there are as many dung beetle species living on other species’ feces as there are bird species living in the whole world. Even Finland has a rich dung beetle fauna – though much less species rich than in the rest of the world.

The number of species found in Finland is affected by two global-level rules: first, that the smaller the surface area, the fewer species (see video 3: Crash course in biodiversity science). Second, in most species groups the number of species gets smaller the further you get from the Equator. Third: Finland is a young region: Just 13 000 years ago our whole country was covered in ice.

But how many dung beetle species does all this come to? Find out for yourself, how these basic rules are reflected in the Finnish dung beetle fauna, and how these Finnish species are doing.

How many dung beetle species can you expect to find in an area the size of Finland?

In species communities all over the world we see a simple rule: the larger the surface area, the more species. The growth does not continue infinitely, but levels off according to this formula: S=CAz Here S is the number of species, C is a constant, A is the surface area and z is a parameter whose value varies between 0.15 and 0.4. Find out the land surface areas of the whole world and Finland. If the whole world has 10 000 species of dung beetles, how many dung beetle species should there be in Finland? Let’s set the value of z at 0.3. The constant C is the number of species that is found in a surface area of 1. You can solve for C by putting the global number of dung beetle species and the world land surface area in the formula above. Remember to use the same unit of surface area in all your calculations (square kilometres recommended).

How many dung beetle species actually live in Finland?
  •  how many dung beetle species have been found in Finland. Is it more or less than what you expected? If did the calculation above, compare the known number of species to the simplified prediction from theoretical ecology, and try to think of reasons for the discrepancy.
  • How are Finnish dung beetle species doing? Threat level estimates are made regularly for Finnish species according to the instructions of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Species are categorized according to their extinction risk level. The general criteria are population size and its reduction or fragmentation, as well as the size and continuity of the specie’s range. The most recent red list is found in (tip: type ”lantiainen”, ”sittiäinen” or ”sontiainen” in the search box). Find out how many dung beetle species are endangered in Finland, and try to find out why they are in trouble.

Do your own dung beetle experiment

Here you get to repeat the experiment where Finnish researchers and youths found out what part different invertebrate species play in removing dung from Finnish pastures. The same experiment can also be done using e.g. mushrooms. Simply replace the dung pat with mushrooms of a selected species and exclude insects just as the instructions describe. Regardless of whether you used dung or mushroom, your experiment will show how different sized invertebrates drive the decomposition of organic material and the cycling of nutrients.

In this project
  • Conduct your own experiment, where you apply the basic research concepts of experimental treatments and replicates.
  • Use the scientific method to find out what role dung beetles play.

The original instructions of the dung beetle project are here. (In Finnish)