Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Six-armed ecosystem engineers remedy farming woes from the ground up

Up until 1967, Australia had a mammoth problem that we solved by sweeping it under the carpet. It worked a treat, and this week it was announced that we’re doubling down the efforts with a slew of new projects.
We’ve been employing the help of foreign dung
beetles to bury our problems for fifty years.
Consider a herd of beef cattle, each cow weighing perhaps half a tonne, grazing away. If you were to guess, how many times would you say each animal defecated in a day? Once? Three times?

Well it’s actually around ten to twelve times. There are 28 million cattle in Australia, producing 280 million cow pats a day that can take months, and sometimes years, to break down. And that’s just cows, not to mention our native marsupial wildlife. You can see how quickly this issue piles up. So why aren’t we living in the Land Down Under a colossal hard-baked monolith of faeces?

The answer, for marsupial faeces at least, is our native dung beetles. They co-evolved with our bouncing, watery-eyed friends and are quite happy to bury their small and hard pellets underground. 

The enormous wet and sticky pats produced by cows, though? Our native beetles don’t stand a chance.

Read Jesse Hawley’s story on the CSIRO blog - “Six-armed ecosystem engineers remedy farming woes from the ground up.”

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