By Michelle Slater
WEST Gippsland Landcare groups are jumping aboard a lucrative market by breeding different species of dung beetles to help stop nutrient run-off from farms.
Cannibal Creek Landcare Group is working with Melbourne Water to develop a dung beetle nursery in Tonimbuk, to introduce different species of the farmers’ little helper into the region.
Cannibal Creek Landcare treasurer Alan Forte said the predominate species in west Gippsland was only active in summer.
The Tonimbuk program is breeding up four species that will be active in each season, turning poo into fertiliser.
“There are many species of native dung beetle but they won’t touch cattle manure, so we need to import them from overseas where there is native cattle, mainly from Africa or Europe,” Mr Forte said.
“They are environmentally very sensitive so you need to make sure they are suitable for the area. We don’t necessarily know which ones will work and which ones won’t.”
Mr Forte said some of these little creatures were being purchased from a breeder in South Australia at a whopping $8 per-head, with others ranging from $2.50 or $3 per-beetle.
The beetles will be shared with local landholders to set up colonies and released onto paddocks, and populations will be monitored and uploaded via the BioCollect app with Atlas of Living Australia.
Dung beetles are known as ecosystem engineers because they bury manure and turn nutrients into natural fertiliser, reducing nutrient runoff.
They were originally introduced by the CSIRO in the 1960s to help manage flies breeding in cattle manure, but there has been very little monitoring of their success in Gippsland.
A Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineering Project is being run in conjunction with Charles Sturt University and the federal government to acclimatising a new species from Morocco.
Mr Forte said it was important for farmers to avoid drenching livestock with ivermectin before introducing dung beetles into paddocks.
He said it was also important for cattle to be nearby before setting the little creatures free, to ensure they found some pats to bury themselves safely into.
“You need to be wary that foxes and crows can eat them before they bury down. A few years ago I released about 1000 into a paddock and the crows ate them all,” Mr Forte said.
“I followed the instructions and released them, but an hour later all the dung was shredded up and there was nothing.”
Minister for Water Harriet Shing visited the Tonimbuk beetle nursery last month to learn more about the breeding program.
“Dung beetles are amazing insects, with benefits for water quality and agriculture,” Ms Shing said.
“This project will help us understand more about them, while farmlands will benefit from the ecosystem service they provide.”