Dairy farms and cattle ranches are a major source of greenhouse gases, especially methane. It’s primarily released from both ends of cows as they chew their cud, but some is also emitted from their manure. Researchers from the University of Helskinki have found that dung beetles living in these so-called cow patties may reduce those emissions.
Head researcher Tomas Roslin explains that the carbon dioxide in the plants eaten and expelled by cattle is converted to methane in anaerobic conditions. There is not much oxygen in a dense cow patty. However, by tunneling and digging around in the patties, dung beetles aerate them, exposing more surface area to the air, thereby reducing methane production. Carbon dioxide is still released, but it is not as potent as greenhouse gas.
While researchers say the beetles could have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pastures, they also raise concerns about the steep declines in many dung beetle species. In an article in the journal PLOS One, they warn that with the growing appetite for meat around the world overall emissions from cattle farming can only increase.