Your Curmudgeon’s favorite insect — the Dung beetle — is once again in the news. Our last post about these noble but unappreciated creatures was Dung Beetles Navigate by the Stars, and that post links to a few others, including one you shouldn’t miss: Intelligent Design: The Dung Beetle’s Tale.
We are always searching for news about these splendid fellows and today, in PhysOrg, we read: Beetles modify emissions of greenhouse gases from cow pats. That’s our kind of story! Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Cattle contribute to global warming by burping and farting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Some of the same gases are also emitted from cow pats on pastures.
Vulgar beasts! And this is where the blessed beetles come in:
But now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in cow pats may reduce emissions of the key greenhouse gas – methane.
We are overjoyed. Our beloved dung beetles are going to save the planet. Let’s read on:
Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Among these, cattle farming for meat and milk are major sources of methane, a gas with a potent warming effect. Much of this methane comes from the guts of ruminating cattle, but some escapes from dung pats on pastures.
Agriculture may destroy us all, but there’s hope. We continue:
Now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in the cow pats may reduce emissions of methane. The study has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Here’s the published article, which you can read online without a subscription: Quantifying Beetle-Mediated Effects on Gas Fluxes from Dung Pats. Back to PhysOrg:
Atte Penttilä, who undertook the study for his Masters, explains: “Cow pats offer a prime food for a large number of organisms. In fact, there are probably as many beetle species living in dung as there are bird species on this planet.“
We delight in bringing you such information. Here’s more:
Of the dung beetles living in Northern Europe, most spend their entire lives within the dung pats. “We believe that these beetles exert much of their impact by simply digging around in the dung. Methane is primarily born under anaerobic conditions, and the tunneling by beetles seems to aerate the pats. This will have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pats into the atmosphere.”
What wondrous insects they are! Moving along:
[Tomas Roslin, head of the research team said:] “If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them – and make sure to include them in our calculations of overall climatic effects of dairy and beef farming.“
Climate scientists, pay attention! The dung beetle is your friend. But then the PhysOrg article ends on an ominous note:
“Overall, the effects that we found are intriguing, but the implications also quite worrying”, says Eleanor Slade, a researcher commuting between teams working on dung beetles in both Helsinki and Oxford. “When you combine the current increase in meat consumption around the world with the steep declines in many dung beetle species, overall emissions from cattle farming can only increase.“
Of all the crises facing our world, this may be the worst. Global warming caused by cattle emissions may be a worse fate than the Lake of Fire. We must save the dung beetle!
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