Dung Beetles Help Rainforests Regrow But Extreme Drought And Wildfires In The Amazon Are Killing Them Off

Dung Beetles Help Rainforests Regrow But Extreme Drought And Wildfires In The Amazon Are Killing Them Off An Amazon forest in Brazil’s Para state after deforestation and wildfires March 9, 2019. Unlike in some tropical forests, the animals of the Amazon are not adapted to survive fire. Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The dung beetle may eat and nest in poop, but its role in nature is anything but humble.

These hardshelled scarabs live on every continent except Antarctica, recycling feces and suppressing parasites that could otherwise harm people and animals. Dung beetles also spread both seeds and nutrients into the soil, helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Conversely, dung beetles suffer when an ecological system is struggling. In tropical forests, for example, stress caused by environmental disturbances causes dung beetles to gain body fat and work less. Species diversity declines.

That’s why, as Amazon researchers, we use the marvelous, hard-working dung beetle to measure the ecological health of the world’s largest rainforest. Since 2010, we have collected and studied over 14,000 dung beetles from 98 different species in the vast and still wild interior of Brazil’s Santarém region, a remote corner of the Amazon forest – part of a long-term project with the Sustainable Amazon Network.

Most recently, we studied dung beetles to assess the Amazon’s recovery from the intense drought and forest fires of 2015 and 2016, extreme climatic events brought on by the most severe El Niño on record.

Dung Beetles Help Rainforests Regrow But Extreme Drought And Wildfires In The Amazon Are Killing Them Off The hard-working Amazonian dung beetle. Filipe França, Author provided

Stressed beetles take less crap

Some forests in our 10,586-square-mile research area were burned in the El Niño fires, which scorched 4,000 square miles of the Amazon. These climate-triggered fires are not to be confused with last year’s Amazon fire crisis, which was deforestation-related. Other Amazonian forests in our study experienced extreme drought but not fire.

We knew going into this project that Amazonian fauna are particularly sensitive to fire – unlike animals in Australia, which have a long history of fire adaptation. But our study, which was published in the scientific journal Biotropica in February 2020, reveals that both forest fires and drought are far more damaging than previously thought.

Dung beetles are captured in traps baited with – what else? – human and pig poop. There we count and physically examine them. To assess their activity level, we trick dung beetles into dispersing seeds by building a small arena filled with a mix of dung and artificial seeds on the forest floor.

Dung Beetles Help Rainforests Regrow But Extreme Drought And Wildfires In The Amazon Are Killing Them Off Researchers measuring beetles’ dung-removal and seed-dispersal services. Marizilda Cuppre/ RAS Network, Author provided

Comparing our catches before and after the El Niño forest fires, we learned that almost 70% of dung beetles had disappeared. We believe that’s because most dung beetles nest in shallow soil depths of between zero to 6 inches, so fire heat is likely to kill them.

The El Niño droughts likewise decimated the Amazonian dung beetle populations. Their populations dropped by about 60% in forests affected only by drought, not fire.

Together, extreme drought and forest fires in the Amazon had severely diminished the beetles’ ability to remove dung and spread seeds, which declined by 67% and 22%, respectively, in comparison to data recorded in 2010 – before El Niño. This reduced haul is probably the result of population loss.

Both the reduction in the number of dung beetles captured and their diminished waste disposal functions persisted even two years after El Niño. While dung beetle populations recover quickly in fire-dependent ecosystems, insect recovery from fire disturbance in tropical forests can take many years.

Dung Beetles Help Rainforests Regrow But Extreme Drought And Wildfires In The Amazon Are Killing Them Off Author Filipe França with an Amazonian dung beetle. Marizilda Cuppre/RAS Network, Author provided

Tropical beetles

If both drought and fire kill off dung beetles, the Amazon forests are in serious trouble.

In damaged forests, most regrowth depends on seed dispersal by animals. Dung beetles disperse the seeds that promote revegetation and spread nutrients in the soil, helping seedlings survive.

They aren’t the only animals that play this critical ecological function. Tapirs, monkeys, ants, bee beetles and even wasps also spread the seeds that aid vegetation regrowth.

But many studies show that dung beetle responses to environmental stress are similar to those suffered by other seed-spreading animals necessary to tropical forest health. And climate change is likewise causing the collapse of these insect populations, killing off ants, bees, butterflies and wasps.

Without these important tropical animals, forests damaged by fire and drought will recover much more slowly. That means they may barely begin their regrowth before the next disaster. And with climate change projected to bring the tropics more intense and frequent droughts, along with hotter and dry global temperatures, such disasters will likely come ever more quickly.

From our field sites deep in the Amazon, we are rooting for all the little creeping and crawling creatures that keep the world running – with, admittedly, some particular affection and concern for the humble dung beetle.

About The Author

Filipe França, Researcher, Tropical Ecology, Federal University of Pará and Joice Ferreira, Researcher in Ecology, Federal University of Pará

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.