Does an aridity and trophic resource gradient drive patterns of dung beetle food selection across the Botswana Kalahari?


Balatlhane P. Tshikae, Scarab Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X20, Hatfield 0028, South Africa. E-mail:


1. Aridity gradients are paralleled by both reductions in resources and decreased species richness of animals. Across the aridity gradient of the Botswana Kalahari, a reduction in mammal species richness leads to reduced density and diversity of dung types, accompanied by reduced dung beetle species richness. We investigated whether this gradient also drives changes in dung beetle food type association and specialisation owing to a loss of some dung types to the arid southwest.

2. Dung beetles were sampled from three study sites in each of the six study areas using 2 × 10 grids of pitfall traps baited with dung (pig, elephant, cattle, and sheep) or carrion (chicken livers).

3. Canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) showed that distributions of dung beetle species between bait types deviated significantly from random associations.

4. Central Kalahari assemblages were more specialist than those at the mesic and arid extremes of the gradient.

5. Patterns of selection and specialisation to bait types differed between mesic northeast and arid southwest study areas. There were specialist faunas on carrion and more generalist faunas on ruminant herbivore dung (cattle and sheep) in each region. However, specialist species associated with elephant dung in the northeast were replaced by a more generalist fauna in the southwest with an opposite trend on pig dung.

6. Reduced species richness and high species turnover from the mesic northeast to the arid southwest is paralleled by a shift in patterns of food association that may reflect changes in the diversity of food types, particularly the absence of elephant dung from the southwest.