Dung Beetles in Lamington National Park

Dr Alfonsina Arriaaga-Jiminez, UNE Discovery

Dung beetles play a crucial role in the burial and degradation of vertebrate dung, performing several critical ecological services that are essential for ecosystem functioning. Australia has more than 500 species of native dung beetles. Some of these species inhabit tropical and subtropical rainforest regions, and some are restricted to small pockets of rainforest above 1000m, making them very vulnerable to climate change.

In January 2023, researchers and students from three universities, including myself (Alfonsina) from UNE, sampled dung beetles in Lamington National Park in Queensland. This sampling is a continuation of the IBISCA-Queensland project that started between 2006-2008. The objective of the IBISCA (Investigating the Biodiversity of Soil and Canopy Arthropods) project is to study the distribution of different types of organisms, flora, and fauna along an elevation gradient that ranges from 300 to 1100 metres. Over several years, this will provide information on the effect of climate change on these populations.

This work began with Geoff Monteith and Rosa Menendez, who took samples from Lamington NP several years ago and continues now with a team of five women who spent two and a half weeks in Lamington NP, walking, living, and enjoying this beautiful place in Australia. Our team consists of Rosa (Lancaster University), Kathy (University of Queensland), Alfonsina (University of New England), Connie and Charlotte (undergrads from UQ). Such field trips are an excellent opportunity for everyone to work with researchers with different specialties. They enable students to discover what fieldwork is all about, and inspire them to do their work.

Connie, an enthusiastic entomologist in training, mentioned, “the past two weeks of doing field study on dung beetles in Lamington National Park has been a dream come true”, and as a bonus, she has learned new field techniques. She will be able to use some of our results in her final semester projects at university. While Charlotte has now developed a new skill for identifying dung beetles, and she has a favourite plot at 1100m altitude, feeling “like a beetle-obsessed fairy frolicking through a magical forest of mushrooms, moss, and leeches. It was wonderful”. As Connie mentioned: “despite hiking an average of 10km per day, getting sweaty, rained on, and covered in leeches and dirt, Lamington is always going to feel nostalgic to me now.”

At the end of the field trip, we felt exhausted, but mainly very happy to have successfully collected what we needed. We still need to identify and compare our findings with what was collected 15 years ago. Apart from all the data we collected, we were happy to have shared part of the experience with the new generation of scientists, letting them come out, be amazed, get dirty, and discover another reason why we do science. We thoroughly enjoyed Lamington NP as our second home for a couple of weeks.