Variability in north temperate dung beetle assemblages at different spatial and temporal scales

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Finn, John A.
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University College Cork
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This study examined the spatial and temporal variability of dung beetle assemblages across a variety of scales e.g. from the between-pad scale (examining the effects of dung size and type) to larger spatial scales encompassing southern Ireland. Dung beetle assemblage structure as sampled by dung pad cohort samples and dung baited pitfall trapping were compared. Generally, the rank order of abundance of dung beetle species was significantly correlated between pitfall catches and cohort pad samples. Across different dung sizes, in both pitfall catches and cohort pad samples, the relative abundance of species was frequently significantly different, but the rank order of abundance of dung beetle was usually significantly correlated. Considerable variations in pitfall catches at temporal scales of a few days appeared to be closely related to weather conditions and rotational grazing. However, despite considerable variation in absolute abundances between consecutive days of sampling, assemblage structure typically remained very similar. The relationship between dung pad size and dung beetle colonisation was investigated. In field experiments in which pads of different sizes (0.25 L, 0.5 L, 1.0 L and 1.5 L) were artificially deposited, there was a positive relationship between pad size and both biomass and number of beetles colonising dung pads and pitfall traps. In addition, with one exception, the field experiments indicated a general positive relationship between dung pad size and biomass density (dung beetle biomass per unit dung volume). A laboratory experiment indicated that pat residence times of A. rufipes were significantly correlated with dung pad size. Investigation of naturally-deposited cow dung pads in the field also indicated that both larval numbers and densities were significantly correlated with dung pad size. These results were discussed in the context of theory related to aggregation and coexistence of species, and resource utilisation by organisms in ephemeral, patchy resources. The colonisation by dung beetles of dung types from native herbivores (sheep, horse and cow) was investigated in field experiments. There were significant differences between the dung types in the chemical parameters measured, and there were significant differences in abundances of dung beetles colonising the dung types. Sheep dung was typically the preferred dung type. Data from these field experiments, and from published literature, indicated that dung beetle species can display dung type preferences, in terms of comparisons of both absolute and relative abundances. In addition, data from laboratory experiments indicate that both Aphodius larval production and pat residence times tended to be higher in those dung types which were preferred by adult Aphodius in the colonisation experiments. Data from dung-baited pitfall trapping (from this and another study) at several sites (up to 180 km distant) and over a number of years (between 1991 and 1996) were used to investigate spatial and temporal variation in dung beetle assemblage structure and composition (Aphodius, Sphaeridium and Geotrupes) across a range of scales in southern Ireland. Species richness levels, species composition and rank order of abundances were very similar between the assemblages. The temporal variability between seasons within any year exceeded temporal variability between years. DCA ordinations indicated that there was a similar level of variability between assemblage structure from the between-field (~1km) to regional (~180 km) spatial scales, and between year (6 years) temporal scales. At the biogeographical spatial scale, analysis of data from the literature indicated that there was considerable variability at this scale, largely due to species turnover.
Aphodius rufipes , European coprophagous dung beetles , Species composition of dung , Aphodius dung beetle assemblage , Colonisation of dung , Spatial and temporal variation of dung beetles , Variations in pitfall catches
Finn, J. A. 1998. Variability in north temperate dung beetle assemblages at different spatial and temporal scales. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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