Land use affects dung beetle communities and their ecosystem service in forests and grasslands

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Dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) are common detritivores, and especially the tunnelling genera Geotrupes, Anoplotrupes and Onthophagus enhance the soil quality and support nutrient cycles by rapid burial of mammalian dung. These functionally important beetles are faced with a wide range of anthropogenic disturbances and changes in environmental conditions due to land use. We thus conducted quantitative surveys of the abundance (converted to total biomass) of dung beetles and their dung removal rates (g per two days) in 150 forest and 150 grassland sites with varying land-use intensity, located in north-east, central and south-west Germany. We used dung from livestock (cow, sheep, horse) and game animals (wild boar, red deer and fox) to provide a characteristic spectrum of dung resources on each site. Most dung beetle species showed habitat preferences: Anoplotrupes, Typhaeus and several Aphodius species almost exclusively occurred in forests, while most Onthophagus individuals were found in grasslands. In total we collected 18780 individuals from 33 species. The average dung beetle biomass was 36 times higher in forests than in grasslands, and their effective dung removal rate was 3 times increased. The beetles’ total biomass was strongly correlated to their removal rates. In forests, the amount of wood harvesting significantly reduced dung removal rates by 20%, and mowing frequency (−7%) and fertilisation (−4%) had a significant negative effect in grasslands. Dung removal by beetles increased with grazing intensity (+6%), however, and was higher in non-native coniferous forests (+22%). Overall, our study demonstrates negative effects of habitat conversion from forest to grassland, and negative effects of land-use intensity within forests and grasslands on dung beetle activities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Pages (from-to)114-122
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.06.2017

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - Biodiversity exploratories, Decomposition, Ecosystem services, Forest management, Grassland management, Land-use intensity