Dung beetles – indicators of biodiversity

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Apart from the obvious global challenges such as climate change and ensuring future food security in a rapidly changing environment, decreasing global biodiversity is also a very serious challenge.

According to the 2019 UN Biodiversity report1, human activities affect global biodiversity to such an extent that a million species will be threatened with extinction within the next decade. Diversity within ecosystems is vital for these systems to function optimally. When species disappear from ecosystems, these systems cannot function properly and run the risk of collapsing. When this happens, food security is at risk since functioning ecosystems are necessary to produce food. To ensure future global food security, research will have to also focus on the current state of global as well as local biodiversity and production practices that will support and protect local biodiversity in the long term should be identified.

Dung beetles contribute to ecosystems as important decomposers – recycling nutrients and carbon into the soil. They are also good indicators of diversity within an ecosystem, because they are sensitive to changes in the environment and the assemblage composition changes and adapts quickly to environmental changes. To determine if conser­vation agriculture (CA) supports biodiversity in ecosystems, the dung beetle assemblages were monitored in CA systems at Reitz and Vrede in the Eastern Free State and compared to those in conventional agriculture (CT) systems in the same areas.

Diversity in dung beetle assemblages was monitored during January/February 2020 with dung-baited pitfall traps on farms where CA is practised and on neighbouring farms where CT production practices are used. The CA practices followed include no-till, limited use of agrochemicals, the use of a diversity of cover crops in the cash crop and the incorporation of livestock in crop fields, while CT practices are characterised by ploughing and reliance on agrochemicals and monocultures.

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