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ECN contributes to multi-national dung beetle study

The European ALTER-Net network's third Multi-Site Research (MSR) experiment explored the impact of dung beetle assemblages on dung and seed dispersals. Two UK sites were included in the study, including ECN Moor House.

In this multi-site experiment, ALTER-Net researchers investigated whether the functional composition of dung beetle assemblages has an impact on dung decomposition and secondary seed dispersal processes.

Rob Rose (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), who manages ECN operations at the Moor House-Upper Teesdale site in the North Pennines, took part in the multi-national study, working with Rosa Menendez (Lancaster University). Eleanor Slade (Lancaster University and University of Oxford) also collected data from a site near Swindon.

The added value of working at the multi-site level was the wide bioclimatic range of sites. For this reason, sites throughout the entire Western Palaearctic zone were included. This enabled MSR researchers to investigate whether predicted climate change could have an impact on these processes through the changes it induces in dung beetle assemblage composition. In 2014, the experiment was run at 12 study sites in eight European countries.

Findings from this novel experiment have previously been published in the journals Oecologia and European Journal of Sustainable Development. Now, the results of this ALTER-Net-funded project have been published in the Journal of Biogeography, in a paper led by Tanja Milotić.

Even more disruptive than the loss of a single species is a functional shift in species assemblages. We may expect to see other changes in an ecosystem as a result. Therefore, understanding functional changes in species assemblages is important. Dung beetles collectively have an important role in ecosystems. Some species are resource specialists, only attracted to a specific dung type, whilst others are generalists and use a wider range of dung types.

This research attempted to answer the following questions: (a) How are dung beetle functional assemblages affected by “geography” (i.e., latitudinal and longitudinal trends) and climate variables?; (b) How does the relative abundance of resource specialists and generalists relate to geography?; and (c) How does functional group diversity among dung beetles affect dung removal and secondary seed dispersal?

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