Even Dung Beetles Prefer Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue

Tatsiana Shymanovich, UNC Greensboro and Sam Ingram, Corteva Agriscience

The negative impact of Kentucky-31 tall fescue on cattle and other pastured animals is well documented. And from a recent study in North Carolina, data suggests this the ergot alkaloids produced from Kentucky-31 may also negatively impact beneficial dung beetles.

To feed their larvae, dung beetles dig underground tunnels, transport cattle feces deep in the soil and form it into brood-balls.  Dung beetles are essential to soil health as their tunneling activities help disperse cow pies and also increase soil nutrient levels, aeration, and rainfall infiltration. Ergot alkaloids, that are toxic to cattle and to insects as well, were detected in feces of cows grazing Kentucky-31 tall fescue. During the two-year experiment, dung beetles showed that they can distinguish dung from pastures with different tall fescue cultivars. When given the choice of dung from Kentucky-31 or Texoma MaxQII, beetles preferred Texoma MaxQII dung and avoided Kentucky-31 dung. Dung beetles made about 4 times more brood-balls from Texoma MaxQII than from Kentucky-31 dung-type. Further, beetle larvae from Kentucky-31 had reduced survival and impaired development when compared with larvae from Texoma MaxQII.

Adult dung beetle (left), two-choice Texoma MaxQII versus Kentucky-31 dung-type experiment (center), and dung beetle brood-balls with a single larva inside (right).

The researchers concluded that pasture renovation with novel endophyte tall fescue may improve overall pasture ecology and productivity by enhancing dung beetle populations in addition to its many other advantages.

Read the full research paper here.

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