Unsustainable farming is challenging the survival of Mediterranean dung beetles – IUCN study

IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med)

1 October 2021

According to a new report from IUCN-Med, dung beetles are facing major losses of suitable habitats due to the decline of traditional livestock farming practices and the abandonment of rural environments, as well as chemical contamination of dung by veterinary medical products.

The publication, which has been funded by MAVA Foundation, can be found here.

World Migratory Bird Day celebrated at SPNL’s Himas across Lebanon

The result of this Red List assessment is further evidence that efforts to halt biodiversity loss in the region need a major boost in the coming years to keep ecosystems healthy and safeguard our natural capital for future generations. The conversion of grasslands into agricultural land for arable farming or forestry, unsustainable levels of intensive grazing, the indiscriminate use of veterinary medical products and the abandonment of livestock farming are important threats to these species. More innovative and integrative approaches are needed towards more sustainable farming in the region”, explains Antonio Troya, Director of IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.

Both overgrazing, which compacts the soil and changes vegetation structure, and livestock abandonment – which reduces the quantity of trophic resources – are considered to be among the biggest threats for Mediterranean dung beetles. Indeed, the decline of cultural practices such as transhumance throughout Europe is likely to increase the pressure on dung beetles.

Moreover, the comprehensive use of veterinary medical products leads to contamination of livestock faeces. The majority of these substances are poorly metabolised by livestock and expelled unaltered in their faeces, affecting non-targeted fauna such as dung beetles. It is therefore necessary to improve legislation to regulate the use of veterinary medical products for parasite control, and implement measures to prevent their unnecessary administration from causing pollution.

The development of urban infrastructure, especially in coastal areas, is another important threat.

“Dung beetle diversity in the Mediterranean region is highly dependent on landscape heterogeneity, the variety of mammals present and the availability of unpolluted herbivore dung pats. Improved domestic and natural grazing management in natural and agricultural landscapes will be key to conserving soil biodiversity to ensure future healthy ecosystems,” says Dr. Jorge Lobo from the Department of Biodiversity and Climate Change at the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Spain.

The new report also highlights that for 74 species, there is insufficient information available to assess their extinction risk. These species were classified as Data Deficient.

“Invertebrate groups such as dung beetles can act as indicators of the health of altered natural landscapes and their biodiversity. Furthering knowledge on these species will help us understand where action should be taken to restore ecosystem health and associated benefits. This report shows the relationship between dung beetle diversity and human-induced changes and also confirms the importance of including this charismatic group of species as part of a more comprehensive and representative Red List of the Mediterranean biodiversity” commented Ana Nieto, Head of Species Conservation Action, IUCN Global Species Programme. 

A lack of legal protection

Furthermore, the report highlights the lack of legal protection for this group of species, which is excluded from key instruments and frameworks such as the EU Habitats Directive, the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, CITES and other EU regulations on the use of anti-parasitic drugs.

Many dung beetles are associated with natural open habitats and traditional agricultural landscapes with a moderate stocking density. Thus, many areas with a rich diversity of dung beetles occur outside of protected areas.

Their protection status varies from one country to another. Some protection measures are in place for either species or ecosystems, but they mainly aim to conserve the populations of a small number of species or to conserve certain natural areas in a variety of ways. Policies are therefore needed to highlight the importance of preserving or introducing farming practices and livestock grazing systems that ensure that healthy natural and agricultural habitats are distributed heterogeneously throughout the landscape.

Dung beetles provide a wide range of environmental benefits, from nutrient cycling, to soil aeration and reduction of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, parasite control and secondary seed dispersal. They are also important in food webs not only as decomposers but also as prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals.

This study, called “The conservation and distribution of Mediterranean dung beetles” is the result of a collaboration between the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the IUCN Global Species Programme and the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.

For more information, photographs and interviews, please contact lourdes.lazaro@iucn.org.

Photo by J.M.Verdu

First published on the IUCN website on 18 January 2021.


The IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med) jointly leads AMNC’s efforts to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas, with project partner Tour du Valat. Through cross-cutting activities, we promote the exchange of methodologies and innovative ideas between the pilot sites, while providing capacity building in topics of interest to the project partners. Information from the project sites and other Mediterranean areas will be gathered to scale up the Cultural Landscapes approach and to enhance heritage learning.

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