New Zealand's New Weapon in War on Climate Gases

Dung Beetle in Black and White photo

Photo credit Rocker _44 via flickr and Creative Commons license.

Christchuch, the second largest city in New Zealand and site of yesterday's damaging earthquake, has about 350,000 inhabitants. Yet most of this beautiful country is more pastoral, and rural, with agriculture the top export industry. Not surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture - especially beef cattle production - contribute half of the New Zealand's overall carbon emissions. So New Zealanders are now importing 11 different species of dung beetle from nearby Australia as an effective way to battle climate gases.Dung beetles were revered in ancient Egypt for their ability to basically eat poop and create new life from it. The ancients didn't realize that dung beetles bury their eggs in the manure they process. Dung beetles are also one of they do what the do out of love">the strongest insects, as THer Stephen Messenger notes.

But now a new generation may come to revere the dung beetle for another talent - as eggs hatch they feed on the manure, converting it to sawdust. According to New Scientist, a dung beetle-inhabited manure mound can disappear in 48 hours when processed by the new beetles, compared to the months it would take for manure to break down naturally into the environment.

As the manure decomposes, it releases greenhouse gases as well as leaching bacteria into waterways. By using the dung beetles, nitrous oxide from the manure is munched up - and converted to carbon dioxide, which has a less intensive carbon emissions intensity.

It is New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA)that approved the importation of dung beetles. While it is also expected that the dung beetles will save Kiwi farmers money, as the breakdown of manure will improve soil quality more quickly than if it sat on fields for longer periods.

ERMA scientists say dung beetles should have come to New Zealand at the time when the first dairy animals were imported, so brining in the dung beetles is actually just correcting an imbalance. However, introducing unfamiliar species to an ecosystem can have unexpected, and sometime, disastrous effects.

More on amazing insects:
Insects: Up Close and Really, Really Personal
Global Warming Loving Beetle Threatens World Coffee Supply
Biomimicry: Learning From Beetles Inspires New Technology

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