We’ve dung it again! Our exotic solution to the dung problem in Australia continues
History of dung beetle introductions to Australia
The original program
Between 1969-87, a team of CSIRO Entomology scientists, initially led by Dr George Bornemissza (below) and financially supported by the then Australian Meat Research Committee, introduced dung beetles to Australia from Hawaii, Europe and Africa to deal with the dung problem.
In order to prevent the accidental introduction of stock and pasture diseases, surface-sterilised beetle eggs were imported and quarantined in Canberra in the ACT, and reared to adult before being released.
Between 1969 and 1984, 43 species were released, of which 23 have become established.
From 1985 to 1995, the Dairy Research and Development Corporation funded a re-distribution project.
The aim was to seed climatically suitable dairy areas of southern and south-eastern Australia with dung beetles, thereby speeding up their spread.
From 1990 to 1992, a joint project with the WA Department of Agriculture imported four species from southern Europe for bush-fly control in southern WA, and released two, Bubas bison and Copris hispanus.
Small numbers of the latter species had been bred and released in the late 1980s; both are now established.
During the summer months of 1994-95, members of the CSIRO Double Helix Club took part in a Dung Beetle Crusade and collected beetles from around Australia.
These beetles were then identified by CSIRO Entomology and the results included in a report on dung beetle distribution.
From the mid-1980s to the present, many Landcare groups, farmers and companies such as Soilcam and Dung Beetle Solutions have been undertaking research and actively cropping and redistributing dung beetles to hasten their geographical spread.
Others have been making dung beetle information available to the public via websites (see links below), workshops and farm days.
These activities have been extremely useful and hastened the spread of dung beetles enormously, and delivered great benefit to the farmers and community.
Nevertheless, by the late 1990s, it had become clear to many pastoralists that more dung beetles species were needed.
A group of dung beetle experts and enthusiasts which came to be called the National Dung Beetle Steering Committee met in late 1999 in Brisbane and set a series of projects in train to collect the background data that was necessary to argue for a new importation project.
A large project was undertaken in Queensland from 2001-02, to survey and monitor the current distribution and abundance of dung beetle species in cattle dung throughout Queensland, and train landholders in dung beetle identification, biology, and the benefits of dung beetles for farm productivity and environmental sustainability.
This project was very successful and showed what needed to be done for the rest of the country.
Some years later, an informal group known as the Dung Beetles for Landcare Farming Committee secured funds from the Orica Community Foundation through Landcare Australia, and, amongst other projects, commissioned Dr Penny Edwards to gather all of the existing information on the current distributions of the imported dung beetles and evaluate their status.
This resulted in the document, “Introduced Dung beetles in Australia 1967-2007 current status and future directions” which has guided the effort since 2007.
The report showed that Australia’s tropical and sub-tropical cattle grazing areas are served by 7-13 species of dung burying beetles, but temperate pastures have fewer than 4 or 5 species.
Of these, most emerge in late spring and are most active during summer; only one is active during the autumn – winter period.
The net effect is a 2-3 month gap in dung burial, during which time the nutrients are not incorporated into the soil, thereby missing an important opportunity to minimise dung pollution and enhance pasture growth in spring.
This gap also coincides with spring influx of migrating bush flies (Musca vetustissima), which are regarded as a major nuisance pest of man and domestic livestock.
As a result of the Edwards’ study, two species were selected for importation, Bubas bubalus and Onthophagus vacca.
In 2009, CSIRO applied to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) to have both species included on the list of species suitable for import.
The applications were duly reviewed and both species were put onto the list Part 1: Species suitable for import without permit.
Concurrently, CSIRO applied to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) for permission to import adults of both species and subsequently, for permission to release their surface-sterilised eggs from quarantine.
This permit was granted in 2010 and re-issued in 2012.