Some of the biggest contributors to the Australian agricultural industry are unaware of the work they are doing.
Charles Sturt University’s Wagga-based Graham Institute estimates dung beetles save the nation’s economy $1.3 billion each year.
The discovery spearheaded by Professor Leslie Weston has been awarded $23 million in federal grants.
“My husband is an etymologist and about six years ago we discovered three species on our property in Coolamon,” said Professor Weston.
“We started to notice that they're presence reduced our flies as we composted our manure and altered our drenching.
“We now have much less manure on the surface soil in summer, which is helping to keep the pasture growth strong.”
Professor Weston estimates the bugs contribute to the economy in three key areas. They control pest species populations, spreads manure nutrients and improves soil health.
Especially as the creatures contribute to the reduction of bush flies, farms that boast a high population of dung beetles can achieve higher rates in livestock rates – and fewer instances of the proverbial ‘Australian salute’.
In the past 40 years the CSIRO has introduced 85 species of dung beetle across Australia, but only 23 have established populations.
“At this point we don’t really know which ones have established where, so we need to conduct some surveillance to map out where they have adapted,” said Professor Weston.
Professor Weston and her team of five other researchers are now preparing to canvas 12 sites across Australia to build a detailed understanding of the beetles’ invisible ministry.