DEVELOPING a broader understanding of how farming practices influence populations and breeding cycles of dung beetles to ensure survival and resilience at a local level is the aim of a project based in the northern agricultural region.
Dung beetles support regenerative agriculture and provide ecosystem services such as recycling nutrients, improving plant growth, suppressing pest flies and reducing nematode parasites.
In response to local producer interest in the beetle and its contribution to farming, the Mingenew Irwin Group (MIG), supported by the State NRM Program through a Community Stewardship Grant, plans to use field experiments to assess the effect broadacre crop seeding may have on dung beetle populations.
Specifically, the group will examine whether seeding with tyne seeding equipment has a detrimental effect on the brood balls, in which larvae start to develop, below ground in different soil types.
MIG project officer Mel McDonald said most of the dung beetles found in the region dig tunnels into the soil beneath a dung pad where eggs are laid.
"It is known that different local species dig tunnels of different depths, but it is unknown whether seeding is disturbing the breeding cycle," Ms McDonald said.
"Many mixed farmers graze their stubbles with livestock after harvest.
"Tunneller dung beetles bury the dung from the livestock and create brood balls for their offspring underground in these cropping paddocks.
"As sowing for crop production disturbs the soil, we want to see if dung beetle brood balls are affected which may affect overall dung beetle populations."
As part of the project, MIG will work with local farmers and students from the Morawa Agricultural School.
Additionally, project promotion provides an opportunity to increase community awareness of the advantages in fostering healthy dung beetle populations in farming systems.
Results of the trial will contribute to the knowledgebase of managing dung beetle populations and be shared through networks including those created through the national Meat & Livestock Australia dung beetle ecosystem engineers project, which MIG has been involved with for the past two years.
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