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Nitrogen fixation in the stag beetle, Dorcus (Macrodorcus) rectus (Motschulsky) (Col., Lucanidae)


Author's address: Atsushi Mochizuki (corresponding author), National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, 3-1-3 Kannondai, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8604, Japan. E-mail:


Abstract:  Stag beetles are xylophagous insects that feed mainly on dead wood. They play an important role in the decomposition of dead wood in forest ecosystems. Most dead wood contains 1% nitrogen at most. It is suspected that stag beetles can utilize atmospheric nitrogen. We show that the larvae of Dorcus (Macrodorcus) rectus exposed to nitrogen reduce acetylene to ethylene in a time-dependent fashion. No reaction was detected with the dead wood or autoclaved larvae, suggesting that living larvae use the reaction for fixing nitrogen. Acetylene reduction to ethylene by larvae increased with incubation time. This effect was not seen using decayed wood only, autoclaved wood only or autoclaved larvae. Acetylene reduction by the larva proceeded at 1.25 ± 0.37 nmol acetylene/h/g (fresh wt), corresponding to the fixation of 0.25 μg nitrogen per day per larva.