A SMALL addition could be bringing big benefits to the state's soil, with a multiple year project under way in the South East to measure the impacts of dung beetles.
As part of a five-year Meat & Livestock Australia study, under the Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers, the MacKillop Farm Management Group is in its first of two years looking at the density and abundance of dung beetles, with sites across eight farms.
PIRSA sustainable agriculture consultant and project manager Claire Dennerley said the trial would enable them to inform a database to work out what species were present in the region and if new species needed to be introduced.
She said the benefits of dung beetles for soil in grazing systems had already been demonstrated, as had their potential to help reduce the spread of disease.
Dung beetles tend to bury the livestock dung, which lifts soil nutrition, aids water permeation and can even limit the number of flies and parasites found in the location.
"Better soils mean better pastures and it's a self-regulating system, so low risk and high rewards," she said.
Ms Dennerley said traps were set at host sites near Naracoorte, Western Flat, Reedy Creek and Beachport across multiple soil types, including deep sand, sand over clay and black flats.
The traps allow them to collect beetles and observe what species and population sizes are on the farm.
"The main focus is to get producers tuned in to whether they have dung beetles on their place and whether there are gaps, and then we can look to introduce beetles to fill the gaps," she said.
As part of the MLA project, more than 24,000 spring and summer-active dung beetles were distributed to 50 farms in Vic, SA and WA earlier this year, including the first newly-imported species, to help boost numbers.
Another three species are expected to be imported and reared in Australia to help make up for any deficit in spring-active beetles.
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Ms Dennerley said there had been interesting findings in the SE, including one property that had not run any cattle since 1997.
"We have found dung beetles are quick to return - once cattle were introduced, we had a really active population within a short time," she said.
Ms Dennerley said there was more work needed on what kinds of chemicals or drenches were the best options to maintain the existing dung beetle populations.
A new guidebook from the DBEE can help primary producers identify their own populations, with similar information also found on a digital identification guide phone app, available through the DBEE website.
Biological impacts vital to soil health
About a decade ago, Beachport biological farmer Darryn Simon introduced a number of dung beetles to the property he manages and welcomed the chance to host a trap to monitor how the population was progressing.
"It's a citizen science project to see what is surviving and how the population is going," he said.
Mr Simon said it was possible to monitor the activity by observing if cow manure was still on the ground surface.
He said dung beetles were an important part of their biodiversity and the dung that was dug into the ground maintained much of its nutrients, compared with those left on the surface.
Throughout the years, he noticed that while they had good summer-active species, there was a gap in winter and spring, with the winter gap largely filled, as they aim for year-round activity.
"We still seem to have a void in spring," he said.
Mr Simon said the project was still in its early days - just six months into a two-year SA-based trial - but already there have been some "revelations", such as the discovery of some NSW species.
"It's going to take the two years to get a handle on what's here," he said.
- Details: Find out more at dungbeetles.com.au or contact Claire Dennerley at firstname.lastname@example.org
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