The Poo-Eating Bug That’s Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Dung Beetle Shutterstock 3x2

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The dung beetle isn’t the most glamorous sounding insect on the planet, but it’s possible this one little creature could share some major responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the globe.

According to a new study from researches at the University of Helsinki, manure-eating dung beetles aerate “cow pats” — or cattle manure. This aeration process reduces the anaerobic conditions — places with essentially no oxygen — that cause methane to seep from the manure piles. As one of the study’s researches explains in a press release, this is good news for climate change:

“You see, the important thing here is not just how much carbon is released” explains Tomas Roslin, head of the research team. “The question is rather in what form it is released. If carbon is first taken up by plants as carbon dioxide, then emitted in the same format by the cows eating the plants, then the effect of plants passing through cattle will be small in terms of global warming. But if in the process the same carbon is converted from carbon dioxide to methane – a gas with a much higher impact on climate – it is then that we need to worry.

As one of the most potent forms of greenhouse gas, methane is a major contributor to global climate change. Cows are serious producers of methane, with “ruminant livestock,” comprised largely of cows, accounting for 28 percent of methane emissions related to human activity. The proliferation of meat consumption and thus cattle farming has only worsened this problem, and the UN has said cows might actually be worse for the environment than cars and trucks combined. Presumably, keeping cows indoors in factory farms worsens the methane emissions by removing cow pats from the hungry mouths of dung beetles.

Innovations to change cow’s diets or use their emissions for energy might help ease the methane problem, but it’s clear dung beetles are already helping to do the job. In a cruel twist of fate, however, dung beetles are actually on the decline worldwide, even as cattle farming grows. “The implications also quite worrying,” said one researcher involved in the study.

(HT: Weather Channel)