SFF Project Summary

Project Title: The biological of pastoral dung in New Zealand
Grant No.: 09/079
   

Contact Details

Name of Applicant Group: The Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group (DBRSG)
Contact Person: Andrew Barber
Address: PO Box 351
Kumeu 0841
Telephone 1: 09 412 5520
Telephone 2:
Facsimile: 09 412 5521
Email: andrew@agrilink.co.nz

Project Details

Status: In Progress
SFF Funding: 406,390
Total Project Funding: 768,530
Proposed Start Date: 2009-12
Proposed Finish Date: 2012-11
Region: Northland, Auckland, Southland, National
Sector: Pastoral
Sub-sector: Beef
Dairy
Sheep
Topic: Animal health
Soils
Waste management
Innovation


Last updated: March 2014

Project webpage: Dung Beetles in New Zealand

Latest update

Project description

Numerous economic, environmental and social benefits will be gained by establishing dung beetles in New Zealand. This project will import and release up to 12 species of dung beetles by:

The dung beetles will initially be released in the Rodney District and Southland, and later throughout New Zealand. Beyond the life of this project the release strategy is likely to be modelled on the success in Australia where farmers themselves breed, sell and release their own dung beetles.

The issue/opportunity

Sheep and cattle have been brought to New Zealand without the associated dung beetles which have evolved to process their dung. New Zealand lacks native pastoral dung-burying beetles. Our 17 species of native dung beetles are forest dwellers and do not feed on pastoral dung or occur in pastoral habitats.

At any one time in New Zealand 5% of all grazing farmland is covered in dung. Roughly 600,000 ha are wasted due to cattle dung alone. Around 745 ha a day is covered by dung which accumulates and sits around for up to 6 months before it breaks down. By introducing pastoral dung beetles we will have the opportunity to rapidly and effectively remove dung from large areas of productive land. Without dung beetles our pastoral dung problems will worsen and sustainable productivity will be harder to achieve in the future.

The benefits that could be achieved by the establishment of dung beetles include:

The context/background

New Zealand has 14 species of native dung beetles, but they are forest and high country tussock dwellers and do not occur in pastoral habitats. A tropical species (Copris insertus) was introduced in 1956 but only established at Whangarei, as most of New Zealand is too cold. Two Australian species (Onthophagus) have self-introduced and are widespread, but are not up to the job required and have little impact. Fortunately, there are many species of dung beetles that could be expected to perform well in New Zealand. Conservative estimates from the USA state that dung beetles are worth around US$380 million annually to the US economy.

A significant benefit from the introduction of dung beetles will be increased pasture productivity. Unless very hungry, stock will not graze near dung pats, avoiding an area of up to five times the dung pats themselves. Breaking up and burying dung makes pasture available again much more quickly, and enhances grass growth through more effective nutrient recycling and lowers the need for fertiliser application.

Dung beetles can also reduce the incidence of parasitic worms in livestock. Dung commonly contains infective stages of gut worms, which subsequently are ingested by grazing stock. Dung beetles can help to break the infection cycle as they bury dung too deeply for parasitic larvae to migrate back to the surface.

Methods

This project will import and release at least 5 and up to 12 species of exotic dung beetles for the biological control of pastoral dung of agricultural livestock in New Zealand.

Landcare Research will provide the scientific expertise for this project. Landcare Research will carry out ecological and climatic modelling to enable us to short list a suite of dung beetle species suited to New Zealand conditions. This is important in order to maximise successful establishment.

Once all the necessary data is obtained we will apply to ERMA to import and mass release the short listed species into New Zealand. If the ERMA application is unsuccessful then we will terminate the project at this point.

Preliminary research findings suggest there will be little risk to New Zealand's environment from the introduction of dung beetles. Dung beetles have readily established elsewhere in the world and so we would expect them to establish here in New Zealand. We are therefore confident of a positive outcome from the ERMA NZ application.

Landcare Research will then source founding populations of the required beetle species from Australia, Hawai'i and possibly South Africa.

Landcare Research staff will then manage the importation, quarantine, mass-rearing and release of the dung beetles. The project will also develop dung beetle management strategies including the design of suitable drenching regimes to maximise dung beetle population establishment on conventional farms (i.e. non-organic farms).

Latest update

The summer of 2013/14 has been extremely busy. The DBRSG has now made over 75 releases from Northland to Southland. All releases have been made on financial stakeholder farmers or farms nominated by our financial stakeholders. Species released include binodis 28, gazella 21, spiniger 14, and taurus 18. The MPI Sustainable Farming Fund project has achieved all its release milestones. The final part of the project is handing the breeding and releases over from Landcare Research to the DBRSG. This process has already begun and a new company is being established to significantly boost the breeding programme in this exciting new phase. Retaining beetles for breeding, while making as many as possible available for release, continues to be a delicate balancing act. Beetle sales will be needed to fund on-going mass rearing and releases, as well as post release monitoring, dissemination and importing the remaining 7 species approved by the EPA. We anticipate offering various options from a lifestyle block package, to a single species farm package, through to a whole farm multi species package. The dung beetle website http://dungbeetle.org.nz/ remains a key source of information on the progress of the project, along with beetle descriptions and management.

Dung Beetles in the Media

On the fun side, look who is interested in our dung beetle releases. Two hobbits at Shelly Beach Farm on 12th December 2013 were filming part of the NZ episode of Wild Things with Dominique Monaghan “Merry” (left) and Billy Boyd “Pippin” (centre).  They were being educated about the benefits of dung beetles and the NZ Dung Beetle Project by Dr Shaun Forgie. 

Wild Things TV Programme

Also a recent FAO report (March 2014) promotes insects as edible. “Eating insects has nutritional and environmental benefits. For instance, dung beetles provide more iron than steak.” Auckland Regional Public Health Service may take some convincing. We will stick to the productivity and environmental benefits.


Update

The field trials developed by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) have been completed and the results presented to the TAG on 18 September. This included field trials on surface runoff, parasite numbers (trial and literature review), and possum diet (testing a possible TB pathway). Details of the trials are on our website http://dungbeetle.org.nz/.

A review of the human health risks was conducted by ESR. The results show that there are no increased or significant risks to human health associated with exotic dung beetles (report is also available from our website).

Following the presentation of the results and discussion the TAG saw no reason why dung beetle releases should not proceed.

The first release of dung beetles was made in Southland on 26 September 2013. Two hundred O. binodus and 200 O. taurus beetles and brood balls with larvae inside, were released at the site by the DBRSG in association with Environment Southland, Landcare Research and local farmers. A second field release of 300 O. binodus adults, 100 brood balls with larvae/pupae inside, and 100 O. taurus beetles was made in the Wairarapa on 8 October. Media coverage of these events has been very positive and quite extensive. Some of these are available on the media page of our website.

Rearing of beetles continues in both Auckland and Lincoln. A rearing and release timetable has been produced for field releases to be made of all four species over the next six months. The priority for the first releases goes to those that have contributed to the project from the outset. We need to do a balancing act between making releases and retaining sufficient beetles to use in the mass rearing programme.

Since releases began, and the associated publicity, there has been an enormous number of farmer enquires. There is a priority list based on when people were added. We are currently working through the costs for mass rearing and associated activities such as research and monitoring. This will enable us to determine beetle costs after the conclusion of the SFF project. We are also in discussions with some councils who may support farmers in their areas. We are also preparing some funding applications.


Update

It has been a quieter period. We expect that to change dramatically this spring.

The field trials developed by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) have continued on since October 2012. The water runoff trials are now complete. These showed significantly lower runoff in the dung + beetles treatment compared to dung alone. There was no significant difference in the quantity of sediment that eroded. These results will be reported in full to the TAG once the write-up is completed and the public health report is available.

The next set of field trials looking at the effects of dung beetles on parasitic nematodes has now also been completed and these results are currently being analysed.

A further set of field experiments have been conducted, after some questions were raised by the Animal Health Board. Although these issues were raised and dealt with at the ERMA hearing we decided to look further into the issue around the ability for dung beetles to be eaten by possums and thereby potentially transmit bovine TB to the possums. Several possums were collected from an area where the exotic dung beetle, Copris incertus, is common and dissected them to examine their gut contents for exotic dung beetles. No beetles were found in the possums.

Rearing of beetles continues in both Auckland and Lincoln but because it is now winter the number of beetles being reared is less than it will be or has been during the summer months. We have good populations of all 4 species now and expect to begin larger scale rearing of these beginning in October after the TAG has met.


Update

In the past 4 months we have managed to rear and release from containment three species of beetles (Onthofagus taurus, Euoniticellus fulvus and Geotrupes spiniger). Onthofagus taurus is now being reared outdoors to bulk up numbers ready for our first field release in February 2012. Euoniticellus fulvus has had a population crash. At this stage the scientists are unsure as to the reason why, but it is likely high humidity levels facilitating a fungal pathogen is the cause. These two species are summer active as well as being prolific breeders with more than one generation per summer expected in New Zealand field conditions (when not falling over on us).

The location of the first release sites has largely been decided. We will shortly be circulating a beetle request form for those who would like to purchase beetles, most likely to be available for release in the 2012/13 summer, although some winter active beetles may be available sooner.

If you would like to be added to the contact database please contact Andrew Barber (Project Manager).


Update

Since the DBRSG received approval from ERMA our science provider Landcare Research have imported three species of dung beetle into their quarantine facility. Two of these species (Onthofagus taurus & Euoniticellus fulvus) are quite small beetles and are summer active. The third species (Geotrupes spiniger) is a large beetle and will be active in mid-autumn to mid-winter in New Zealand.

Shaun Forgie and Helen Parish from Landcare Research travelled to Adelaide Australia to work with a dung beetle expert to learn about rearing techniques and to see beetles first hand in the field. They witnessed large numbers of beetles flying into cow dung as it was falling onto the ground from a feeding cow.

We now have a good number of larvae outside of quarantine (inside rearing rooms) being reared in hand prepared dung balls. When the new adults emerge Landcare will begin the mass rearing of beetles outdoors.

We expect limited field releases in March/April 2012.

We are expecting to import the next beetle species (Bubas bubalus) in August (2011) and then Onthophagus gazella in October 2011.

The plan is to make the first release prior to Christmas (subject to successfully breeding enough beetles) onto a conventional sheep and beef farm in Wellsford. The farm was visited in June with sites selected for the first release and discussions held on stock management.

Opposition to the ERMA NZ decision to approve the release of dung beetles has continued.

The DBRSG position is that:

ERMA NZ's position is unequivocal and unwavering that the risks are negligible and that the benefits were likely and of medium positive effect.

The full ERMA decision is available on their website, or a summary can be obtained by contacting the DBRSG Project Manager Andrew Barber.

If you would like to be added to the contact database please contact Andrew Barber (Project Manager).


Update

The Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group was required to attend and defend our ERMA application at a public hearing which was held in December 2010 in Wellington.

This hearing was thorough, well attended, and ultimately successful for us as submitters. There was a lot of effort put into this hearing by at least 7 people associated with Landcare Research, DBRSG, Federated Farmers and Ngati Whatua and we thank all of these people for their efforts and support.

On the 2nd February 2011 ERMA announced that we were successful with our application to introduce 11 species of dung beetles into New Zealand. A great day for the future of New Zealand farming.

We have applied to MAF, and received, a permit to import these 11 species into our containment facility at Lincoln.

Shaun and Helen Parish, who will be rearing the beetles in Lincoln, visited colleagues in Australia to learn more about sourcing beetles and advice on how to mass rear them.

There has been intense media interest in this project and many interviews have been done by Shaun with Radio, Newspapers, TVNZ, Discovery Channel and Australian TV. www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/business/farming/4374008/Dung-beetle-eyes-souths-cow-pats

Milestone 4 (import 5 -12 species of dung beetle) is now 25% complete. Note no beetles have yet been imported. Milestone 5 (develop mass rearing techniques) is 20% complete.

If you would like to be added please contact Andrew Barber (Project Manager).


Update

26 January 2011

Over the past 4 months we have been compiling and writing the ERMA application. This has now been formally submitted to ERMA NZ as of the 10 September 2010. We would therefore expect a decision after 125 working days or by the end of March 2011. We expect to attend a public hearing in Wellington probably on 8 December 2010 as part of the ERMA NZ decision making process.
We have applied to bring in 11 species of exotic dung beetles from Australia and Europe. (See attached photos). These species Euoniticellus fulvus, Geotrupes spiniger, Ontohophagus vacca, Onthophagus binodis, Onthophagus taurus, and possibly Bubus bison are best adapted to colder climates and are to be released into Southland and other parts of the South Island.

All 11 of the species on the list are to be released into the Rodney District and other parts of the North Island.

Initially we will concentrate on bringing Geotrupes spiniger, Bubas bison, Onthophagus binodis, Onthophagus taurus from Australia and Bubas bubalus, Copris hispanus, Copris lunaris, Onthophagus vacca from Europe.

As part of the Maori consultation a hui was held in July at the Nga Marae e Rima - Reweti, Haranui, Te Kia Ora, Te Aroha Pa, Puatahi with Mana Whenua to explain about and seek input on the application. Landcare Research was represented by Shaun Forgie and Hugh Gourlay, the DBRSG was represented by our Chairman, John Pearce and committee member Chris Pairama, our applicant advisor and Maori consultant, Richard Hill also attended along with Patrick Gemmel the Maori Liaison person representing ERMA NZ. This was a very successful and worthwhile hui to air all the views surrounding the impacts and benefits of the importation and release of pastoral dung beetles into New Zealand.

Hugh Gourlay presented a talk to the National Education and Training Seminar conference held in Blenheim in July, about the dung beetle project and the community group.

Both Shaun and Richard have had several meetings as part of the pre-consultation process, with DoC, ERMA NZ and other responders to the ERMA application.

Other field days, meetings and public talks to community groups have been made by Betsy Kettle, John Pearce, Chris Pairama and Shaun Forgie.

Milestones 3a and 3b are now 100% complete.

If you would like to be added please contact Andrew Barber (Project Manager).

Update

Over the past 4 months we have been compiling and writing the ERMA application. This has included pre-application consultation with Maori and other organisations throughout New Zealand.
As part of this consultation a hui will be held on 16 July with Mana Whenua to explain about and seek input on, the application.

Compiling this application has required meetings with members of the group as well as other interested parties to discuss issues surrounding the importation and release of dung beetles into NZ.

We are expecting that a draft ERMA application will be submitted in July and the final official application will submitted to ERMA NZ by the end of July 2010. This is a month later than predicted in our last report. However, delays in collecting and writing all of the information needed in the application have taken longer than expected. The pre-consultation process has also been delayed with the request from Mana Whenua for a hui to discuss and clarify the project and ERMA application.

We expect to have the ERMA application submitted by 31 July 2010.

If the ERMA application is successful the first very limited releases (5) are expected by February 2012.

Farmer and landowner interest in the project continues to grow. There are now 97 people and organisations on the Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group mailing list. If you would like to be added please contact Andrew Barber (Project Manager).


Update

Over the past 4 months we have been compiling the ERMA application information. Compiling this information has required meetings with members of the group as well other interested parties to brainstorm issues surrounding the importation and release of dung beetles into New Zealand.

We have also had to have meetings with ERMA NZ to discuss the timing of the application and the sort of information they expect the application to contain.

Further meetings and consultation has also been needed to deliver an appropriate dialogue with Maori throughout New Zealand as part of the consultation process all ERMA applications require.

We are pleased to say that most of this is now over and Shaun is now writing the ERMA application and expects to have it finished and submitted to ERMA by the end of June 2010.

Shaun has organised our overseas colleagues to collect information about the most appropriate beetles for the New Zealand climate. These discussions have led Shaun to contract a study in Australia looking at the interactions between native and introduced dung beetles in the Australian system. This study has provided Shaun with information to strengthen the arguments in the ERMA application around the possible interactions between our native and potential introduced dung beetles. No negative issues have arisen from this study.