The humble dung beetle is the focus of a major study spanning six government areas in NSW.
The University of New England (UNE) is leading the charge in the North West and the Northern Tablelands and is looking for people to come on board to help determine where dung beetle populations are - and aren't - active.
Zac Hemmings, from UNE's School of Environmental and Rural Science, said research was being carried out all across Australia so they can "compare states and see where there are gaps in activity".
"We're hoping to get a bigger picture of dung beetle activity ... we know there is seasonal and regional inactivity," he said.
"Once we see gaps, we can look into redistributing species that are already introduced."
The project, Beetles with Benefits, is funded by the federal government through a Rural Research and Development for Profit Program grant received by the Meat and Livestock Association. UNE and the Tamworth Regional Landcare Association are just two of many partners in the project.
Mr Hemmings is one of four at UNE carrying out field experiments, rearing dung beetles, and monitoring sites at the university's farm in Armidale, Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth, and a private property in Uralla.
"We've been monitoring these sites for more than a year and are pushing to expand that around northern areas of the state to try and get more data," Mr Hemmings said.
"We're introducing three new species to Australia and data from this will inform where we release those guys, and we're looking at redistributing existing species."
"The ultimate goal in a perfect world, when we're finished, is that all dung cattle and sheep produce is buried."
Mr Hemmings said anecdotal information from landholders around Armidale, Tamworth and the Northern Rivers about an increase in flies last summer and autumn pointed to a decrease in dung beetle activity likely caused by the drought.
He said dung beetle activity helped to reduce fly population and build-up in pastures, increase water filtration, and improve soil nutrients and the quality and health of pastures.
"We're trying to quantify that, say how much they're helping farmers. We'd like to be able to say, 'Dung beetles are worth this much to you'," he said.
The ultimate goal in a perfect world, when we're finished, is that all dung cattle and sheep produce is buried.Zac Hemmings, UNE postdoctoral fellow
Mr Hemmings said if there were substantial active dung beetle populations on farm, it could potentially reduce the need for sheep drenches and fertilisers.
"It's relatively unique behaviour because they subsist on cattle dung. We call them eco-system engineers because they engineer the eco-system around them," he said.
Mr Hemmings said UNE was in talks with Farrer about how students might be able to engage in the project.
There are also discussions about hosting workshops in the coming months so people can learn "what they look like, how to identify them, what beetles do, behaviours [and] how they help improve quality and pasture of soils".
How to get involved
- Download the MyDungBeetleReporter app and upload photos of dung beetle activity.
- If there are signs of dung beetle activity in fresh dung, place the dung in a bucket then scoop up the beetles and get in touch with UNE about passing them on.
- Using provided equipment and a system, set-up and monitor pan traps each month to collect dung beetles and produce a report.
To help with monitoring on the Beetles with Benefits project, submit an expression of interest online via https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DungbeetleEOI