Dung beetle activity Is soil-type-dependent and modulates pasture growth and associated soil microbiome

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The introduction of numerous exotic dung beetles across southern Australia in regions where native dung beetles are not generally efficient in processing livestock dung has resulted in significant reductions in the quantity of such dung on the soil surface in recent years. However, the direct impacts of such ecosystem services on pasture quality and soil nutrient mobility have not yet been investigated in the Riverina region of New South Wales (NSW), an area recognised for prime cattle and sheep production in Australia. Utilising 48 soil columns for lysimetry, we quantified the impact of a common introduced dung beetle (Bubas bison) in this region on water quality after permeation through four different soil types sown to winter annual pastures. Dung beetle treatments included dung plus dung beetles, dung alone and no dung beetles, and no dung and no beetles as a control. Dung beetles and soil type impacted on the performance of improved overseeded annual pastures as measured by biomass accumulation over a four-month growing season. The four soil types, namely, Chromosol, Kandosol, Rudosol, and Vertosol, differed considerably with respect to their water-holding capacity and nutrient profiles, as assessed by initial soil testing and soil leachate evaluation following rainfall plus simulated rainfall events. The concentration of Escherichia coli resulting from cattle dung, cattle dung plus beetles, and the control soils without dung or beetles was assessed in collected leachates over a three-month period. E. coli numbers were significantly increased following B. bison activity, when compared to the dung-only and control treatments. Evaluation of the soil microbiome, by assessing genomic DNA in soils sampled 10 cm below the soil surface where dung beetles remained active following tunnelling, revealed significant differences among soil types with respect to bacterial and fungal communities. Within each soil type, dung beetle activity impacted the fungal community structure, but not the bacterial community. Pasture performance as assessed by biomass accumulation was significantly improved following dung beetle activity in later stages of pasture growth, while E. coli numbers and total coliforms appeared unaffected by beetle presence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number325
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


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