• bovine dung;
  • burial;
  • disturbance;
  • Onthophagus gazella;
  • Onthophagus granulatus

Abstract  The potential for dung beetles to reduce populations of the biting midge and arbovirus vector Culicoides brevitarsis in bovine dung was studied in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales (NSW) between 1999 and 2003 using natural populations of insects. Preliminary work to develop experimental procedures showed that: a few C. brevitarsis could survive in buried dung; dung beetles and C. brevitarsis coming to dung were unaffected by a background of shade-cloth used experimentally to prevent dung burial; the most abundant dung beetle, Onthophagus gazella L. and C. brevitarsis oviposition occurred concurrently in the first 2 d after dung deposition, and the potential for interaction between dung beetles and C. brevitarsis was greatest in open pasture adjacent to trees where cattle congregate at night. Laboratory experiments on dung burial showed that C. brevitarsis numbers decreased as numbers of dung beetles increased or as the dry weight of dung decreased due to burial. This was seldom reflected in the field where, although significant burial occurred experimentally in 9 of 20 trials over 3 years, a significant decline in C. brevitarsis numbers attributable to burial only occurred once. C. brevitarsis numbers in the field were lower in unburied dung in 70% of trials. Differences were significant twice and were considered the result of dung disturbance. In the laboratory, decreasing numbers of C. brevitarsis were related to three characteristics of disturbance: the flattening, spreading and reduction in wet weight of the dung. Evidence of C. brevitarsis activity throughout coastal NSW suggests that, while C. brevitarsis numbers may be modified by dung beetles, the interaction is insufficient to prevent their increase, spread and ability to transmit viruses to livestock.