Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sustainable development. Dung beetles in Australia: The contribution from Dr George Bornemissza

Escarabajos peloteros en Australia: La contribución del entomólogo Dr. George Bornemissza

If there is someone to blame on my interest in multicolored scientific and travel magazines, such person is my mother. Somehow, she managed to teach me how to read at an age of four, inducing me to investigate into the wonders of nature, at a time when the only sources of information were some magazines and chrome albums that used to arrive to my country a year (and maybe more) after its release. (*To youngsters: I am not that old; technology has simply advanced faster than you can imagine). I remember, back in 198something, when we were at the exchange store were we used to get secondhand magazines and chromes for my album (which I still own!), my mom showed me a chrome on the "dung beetle"; I did not know the meaning of dung back then, and had not understood its importance on sustainable agriculture, until today, when the Nat Geo show "Insectmania" reported some of the outcomes of the 1966-1986 CSIRO Dung Beetle Project.

The Project
European settlements brought cattle into Australia, which in turn brought tons of dung to which local dung species were not used to manage. Among all the consequences brought by such imbalance, one of the most notorious for urban settlements was the increase in the flies population. According to the Bugmania script, the amount of such insects was so large that there was a time that some Australian cities and towns had to release directions that would force public restaurants to avoid offering meals on open air facilities. The CSIRO took action then, and Dr. G. George Bornemissza began his journey into Africa to investigate which species would have the conditions to adapt to the Australian environment. Later, in the 1980 the research began in the Australian continent, with the introduction of few dung beetle species. The project has succeeded in some cases, and research continues to our days. Now, in Australia there are farmers who operate the business of dung beetles. John Feehan, a researcher who spent 26 years working on the CSIRO's dung beetle program is a believer on the success of the project and the benefits of beetles as, among others, an alternative to fertilizers. He says, that dung beetles can improve the nutrient content and structure of soil, simply though their life cycle. Then, he explains, "dung has nitrogen in it, phosphorous in it, lots of other trace elements in it, so by putting these all back underground there certainly are a lot of positive benefits," he says. 
The introduction of new species has long been recognized to have consequences, most of them often unthinkable. Near here, in the Andean Altiplano, there are plenty of examples, among which the introduction of the voracious (and polluting) trouts by the uninformed local farmers is perhaps the best example. Clean up the mess you have done!, that is the lesson to be learned.

- Dung Beetles Australia,

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