Volunteers join scientists in finding out who gets rid of cow dung

Nov 08, 2013

With more than a billion cows around the world, an immense amount of dung is produced each day. Most of these droppings will evidently disappear, as the world is still green rather than brown. Now a team of scientists have joined forces with local volunteers to find out who decomposes the most of it in Finland, Northern Europe.

Dor beetles dominate

The largest part of a dung pat is broken down by alone, or just evaporates as the pat dries out. About one-eighth (13%) is removed by small animals, mostly insects and other invertebrates.

Not all of these animals are equal: Of all the bugs making a living off the dung, large tunnelling Dor beetles in the genus Geotrupes removed dung twice as fast as did smaller dung-dwelling beetles and earthworms.

Climate proved to have an equally strong effect on dung disappearance as does dung-eating animals.

Citizen scientists did the job

Comparing the impact of specific animal groups with that of climate was possible as the scientists targeted some 80 sites across a whole country. At each site, a set of cages was used to keep out certain dung-eating invertebrates from selected cow pats but not from other pats.

Clearly, no single team of professional scientists could work at this scale. To achieve it, the team used the approach of citizen science.

"Citizen science is about having non-scientists joining in the research process. Together we can then form the big picture" explains Riikka Kaartinen, who kept the whole project together.

Strength in numbers

"Our strength comes from our numbers", says Bess Hardwick, who taught the participants how to do the experiment, and answered their questions throughout the summer. "A lot of changes in nature will only be noticed if followed by a large number of eyes – like if some animals change their ranges southwards or northwards, or if they get rarer."

"What we did was to take citizen science one step further, by moving from 'just' observing nature to manipulating something, to excluding certain groups of " says Tomas Roslin, the leader of the research group. "Changing something and looking at the consequences, that is the gist of experimental science."

"The thing to learn here is that we can do so much more if we just think outside of the scientists' box", adds Tomas. "In , our own imagination is really the hardest limit to what we can do together."

Explore further: Beetles modify emissions of greenhouse gases from cow pats

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Exotic manure is sure to lure the dung connoisseur

Apr 11, 2012

Although the preference of dung beetles for specific types and conditions of dung has been given substantial attention, little has been done to investigate their preference for dung from exotic mammals found on game farms ...

Galloping beetles could be counting steps

Oct 21, 2013

(Phys.org) —A species of dung beetle in the Western Cape has given up its ability to fly and instead gallops across the sand in a behaviour which researchers suspect evolved as a way to navigate back and ...

Dung beetles use stars for orientation

Jan 24, 2013

You might expect dung beetles to keep their "noses to the ground," but they are actually incredibly attuned to the sky. A report published online on January 24 in Current Biology shows that even on the da ...

Saddling up against the threat to our National Parks

Nov 07, 2013

Research team leader, Associate Professor Catherine Pickering, said the Griffith study looked at the number and types of weed seeds which can be dispersed through horse manure. The findings have been published in the journal ...

Recommended for you

Why do snakes flick their tongues?

15 hours ago

Many people think a snake's forked tongue is creepy. Every so often, the snake waves it around rapidly, then retracts it. Theories explaining the forked tongues of snakes have been around for thousands of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mememine69
1 / 5 (5) Nov 08, 2013
"But Mommy, Google says that in 30 years of CO2 research the scientists have only agreed on nothing beyond "could be" and have never said or agreed it WILL be a crisis so why are you saying it WILL be a CO2 climate crisis when science has not?"
"Because the news editors agreed it WILL be a crisis so shut up and stay frightened and turn those lights out more often please."