Effects of species pool and community assembly processes

on dung beetle diversity and ecosystem functions in a warming world

Dung Beetles

Dung beetles (Coleoptera, Scarabaeoidea) perform a wide range of ecosystem functions and services, being key to ecosystem productivity and consequently having major economic impacts.

These insects are mostly coprophagous, using excrement to both feed and breed. They present three main nesting categories, each associated with different ecosystem functions.

Paracoprids or tunnelers

Paracoprids, or tunnelers, bury dung brood balls in chambers they build vertically and close to the original dung pat.

Telecoprids or rollers

Telecoprids, or rollers, transport the dung ball above the ground, burying it away from the original dung mass.

Endocoprids or dwellers

Finally, endocoprids, or dwellers, stay within the dung mass, and rear their progeny there.

By burying the excrement, dung beetles help decompose faeces, contributing to increasing mineralization rates, nutrient recycling and soil aeration, controlling the populations of parasites and dipterans, and facilitating seed dispersal.

These ecosystem functions are influenced by species diversity, and many of them are enhanced by species complementarity and interactions, even under environmental pressures.


The Project

Nature provides many benefits to mankind through the ecosystem functions species perform.

Species diversity is an important driver of EF, that depends on multi-scale processes, from the species pool, to environmental filtering and biotic interactions. Global changes, particularly in climate, can affect diversity, with the consequent reduction in ecosystem functions.

Many ecosystem functions are provided by insects, among which stand out dung beetles (DB; Coleoptera, Scarabaeoidea) that feed on excrements, and, by burying it, contribute to the mineralization, seed dispersal, availability of soil nutrients, etc.

DUNGPOOL aims to evaluate the effect of the species pool, community assembly processes, and increasing temperatures on the local diversity and EFs performed by dung beetles in cattle-grazed pasturelands.

DUNGPOOL will focus on different spatial scales, from a global scale to a regional scale including two areas (Sierra de Madrid, mainland Spain; and the islands of the Azores), evaluating 3 ecosystem functions:

Dung removal

Seed dispersal

Nutrient supply to the soil

In the field and in the laboratory

We will use different approaches, data and types of experiments, both in the field and in the laboratory. Using available data on dung removal and dung beetles local diversity from a previous study conducted globally led by the PI, we will evaluate the effects of the species pool on local diversity and on the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationship (BEF; focusing on dung removal).

​We will also use a combination of dung beetles sampling on the areas that could potentially act as the species pool, and manipulative field experiments using open top chambers (OTC) that warm the dung inside (c.1.5ºC in respect to outside temperature) and control units that do not, to assess the individual and combined effects of species pool diversity and climate change on local species diversity (both species richness and functional diversity), ecosystem functions, and BEF. By performing these tasks in Madrid and Azores, two regions with disparate historical and ecological contexts, we will be able to know how general results are, and how these can be extrapolated to other regions.

DUNGPOOL also includes mesocosm experiments both in the laboratory and in the field, to assess how ecosystem functions provision by dung beetles is influenced by species interactions and priority effects (i.e. the differentiated arrival of species), and how temperature affects such relationships.

This will be achieved using:

Walk-in chambers

Walk-in chambers that allow controlling temperature conditions (using control temperature corresponding to the outside temperature, and adding 2ºC to this basal temperature, to simulate temperatures as predicted by IPCC


Using OTCs (closed on the top to prevent DB from escaping) in the field (in Madrid region).

In both cases, we will place 2 dung beetles species in these chambers, either individually or together, with individuals and/or species being added in different moments of time (4 hours apart).

After 72 hours of exposure, we will measure ecosystem functions under the different species combinations and temperature regimes.

DUNGPOOL will be a fundamental cornerstone for our understanding of the multi-scale determinants of BEF relationships under changing environmental conditions, an essential step for designing sustainable environmental policies and landscape planning based on ecosystem resilience to global change.

It will also set the basis of a research program that provides high-quality experimental assessments of the impact of global warming in the delivery of ecosystem functions provided by insects.


Team Members

Ana M. C. Santos

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Principal Investigator

Ana (Guida) is a biogeographer and community ecologist specialised in insect taxa. She has led two research projects on ecosystem functioning, functional diversity and global change. She will be responsible for the overall supervision of the project, particularly the design and preparation of experiments, being actively involved in most tasks, particularly those related to ES measurement, dung beetle sampling, data analysis and writing scientific articles and project reports.


Paulo A. V. Borges

Universidade dos Açores [ Portugal ]

Biogeographer and community ecologist

Paulo is a biogeographer and community ecologist with special interest on arthropods. He is an expert on the Azorean habitats and diversity, and on the effects of land use change and species introductions in this region.

More information about his research:





Francisco J. Cabrero-Sañudo

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Dung beetle ecologist

Paco’s research lines are related to Biogeography, Ecology and Systematics, his animal models being mainly arthropods, specifically insects. He is interested in the quantitative and qualitative characterization of Biodiversity, throughout time and space, in order to examine the underlying patterns and processes of its variation and to recognize the possible environmental or historical causes that produce them. One of the lines that interests him the most is the study of urban Biodiversity and the proposal of strategies for its recovery or enhancement in the urban environment. As director of the UCME Entomology Collection, he is also interested in the management of Natural History collections, both in terms of conservation and their use for research and dissemination.

More information about his research:



+34 91 394 5875

Eva Cuesta

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Dung beetle ecologist

Eva is a dung beetle ecologist, interested in the thermal physiology of dung beetles. She has fieldwork experience and an extensive taxonomic knowledge of dung beetles.

More information about her research:



Indradatta de Castro-Arrazola

Universidad de Granada

Indra does research in Functional Ecology and Biodiversity-Ecosystem Functioning. He has been working with traits and community ecology with a wide variety of taxa in different projects: dung beetles, harvestmen, meadow plants, mosses and forests. He has recently led a synthesis work on the meaning of dung beetle traits.

More information about his research:


Sandra Grzechnik

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Sandra’s research interests include are linked to ecology, biogeography, systematics, and conservation biology using different groups of arthropods, especially dung beetles (Scarabaeoidea) and butterflies (Lepidoptera). She is currently finishing her PhD on trophic preferences of dung and carrion beetles in a pasture system to determine the adaptability of beetles to different food sources.

More information about her research:




Rosa Menéndez

Lancaster University, UK Reino Unido

Rosa is a is a Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University. She studied in Spain and moved to the UK 20 years ago, where she currently lives and works. She studies the impacts of climate change and land use changes on insect biodiversity, with a particular focus on butterflies in Europe and dung beetles in both temperate and tropical systems. Her approach ranges from documenting the patterns of response, through determining the underlining causes and mechanisms, to assessing and predicting the consequences for ecosystem function and stability. Rosa’s research also has a conservation focus, aiming to provide advice on the best management practices for promoting the conservation of insects. She is an Editor in Chief for Ecological Entomology.

More information about her research:




Begoña Peco

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Begoña is a community ecologist interested in understanding the mechanisms that drive grassland dynamics, primarily seed availability and seedling survival. She also studies the effects of grazing abandonment on plant taxonomic and functional diversity, soil fertility and soil carbon storage.

More information about her research:



François Rigal

Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour. Francia

François has experience in the theoretical and analytical aspects of community ecology (e.g. functional and phylogenetic diversity metrics), macroecology and island biogeography.

More information about his research:



Eleanor Slade

Nanyang Technological Univ., Singapore

Eleanor is an invertebrate ecologist. She works with dung beetles and other edaphic fauna, assessing the effects of human activity on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, using a range of experimental and field-based approaches.

More information about her research:



Alejandra Zarzo

Universidad Autonoma de Madrid / Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC

Alejandra is a spatial ecologist, studying the effects of species’ environmental niches and ecological interactions on their coexistence and responses to global change drivers. She studies populations and drivers of change in species distribution, behavior and ecology, to apply such knowledge to conservation. She is interested in improving and applying Species Distribution Models, in order to predict changes and assess extinction risk considering different spatial scales.

More info about her research:





DUNGPOOL’s third general meeting

DUNGPOOL’s third general meeting

The project Team had an online meeting on December 21st 2023 to discuss the advances made in 2023, and the work that will be done in 2024. We have a fieldwork season in Azores ahead of us, as well and laboratory experiments. Stay tunned!

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