Density-dependent ecosystem service delivery under shifting temperatures by dung beetles

Nonofo Gotcha, Ross N. Cuthbert, Honest Machekano, Casper Nyamukondiwa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increases in the frequency and magnitude of suboptimal temperatures as a result of climate change are subjecting insects to unprecedented stresses. This may negatively affect their fitness and the efficiency of their ecosystem service provision. Dung beetles are ecosystem service providers: through feeding on and burying dung, they facilitate nutrient recycling, secondary seed dispersal, parasite control, soil bioturbation and dung decomposition. As such, prediction of how dung beetles respond to multiple anthropogenic environmental changes is critical for the conservation of ecosystem services. Here, we quantified ecosystem services via dung utilisation and dung ball production in three telecoprid species: Allogymnopleurus indigaceous, Scarabaeus zambezianus and Khepher prodigiosus. We examined ecosystem service efficiency factorially under different beetle densities towards different dung masses and under three temperature treatments (21 °C, 28 °C and 35 °C). Khepher prodigiosus, exhibited greatest dung utilisation efficiency overall across dung masses, compared to both S. zambezianus and A. indigaceous. Dung removal was exhibited under all the tested temperatures by all tested species, and therefore the sub-optimal temperatures employed here did not fully inhibit ecosystem service delivery. However, emergent effects among temperatures, beetle species and beetle density further affected removal efficiency: S. zambezianus and A. indigaceous utilisation increased with both warming and beetle density, whereas K. prodigiosus performance was less temperature- and density-dependent. Beetles also tended to exhibit positive density-dependence as dung supply increased. The numbers of dung balls produced differed across species, and increased with temperature and densities, with S. zambezianus producing significantly most balls overall. Our study provides novel evidence for differential density-dependent ecosystem service delivery among species across stressful temperature regimes and emergent effects for dung mass utilisation. This information is essential for biodiversity-ecosystem-function and is critical for the conservation of functionally efficacious species, with implications for natural capital conservation policy in rapidly changing environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number150575
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 25 2021


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