Dr Robbie Wilson (centre) and students Eddie White and Estelle Van Der Linde with dung beetle collection kits
Dr Robbie Wilson (centre) and students Eddie White and Estelle Van Der Linde with dung beetle collection kits
25 March 2009

Dung beetles are renowned for their smelly habitats, yet these little creatures could hold the key to South East Queensland’s changing biodiversity, according to new UQ research.

First-year science students (Biodiversity and Our Environment) are using the beetles to help identify ways to protect the region’s unique biodiversity during future urban expansion.

As part of a greater Australian Research Council Project that looks at the variety of birds, micro-bats, dung beetles and mammals from across 140 sites in the area, the students have been nominated to look at dung beetle diversity.

UQ Senior Lecturer Dr Robbie Wilson, from the Integrative Ecology Lab, said the project allowed students to be involved in research that directly affected government policy in SEQ.

“Many (dung beetle) species provide important biological services by removing and recycling animal dung in bush and suburban backyards,” Dr Wilson said.

“Without dung beetles, our urban environment would rapidly become very stinky!

“Thus dung beetles are one of the important indicator species of an ecosystem’s health. The greater density and diversity of dung beetles the faster poo is removed and recycled and the greater the density and diversity of mammals that occurs in the region.”

The project will provide real research experience for the students who will help identify the beetles.

As part of their studies, the students will be provided with a dung beetle collecting kit that includes a frozen ball of cow poo.

“Students bury the plastic container, put the cow poo above the container and, hey presto, dung beetles come along and drop into the bottom,” Dr Wilson said.

“The students will be trained to identify dung beetles using their own collected beetles. We will then provide the students with five unidentified beetles from our research and ask them to identify them to species.

“All data will be collated and the students will get to analyse the findings. These results will be directly fed back to our research partners.”

The Australian Research Council project is being conducted in collaboration with the Brisbane City Council, Gold Coast City Council and Redland City Council, as well as the Urban Development Institute of Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Media: Eliza Plant at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619)