Dung beetles increase plant growth: a meta-analysis

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The ecosystem services provided by dung beetles are well known and valued. Dung beetles bury dung for feeding and breeding, and it is generally thought that the process of burying dung increases nutrient uptake by plant roots, which promotes plant growth. Many studies have tested the effects of dung beetles on plant growth, but there has been no quantitative synthesis of these studies. Here we use a multi-level meta-analysis to estimate the average effect of dung beetles on plant growth and investigate factors that moderate this effect. We identified 28 publications that investigated dung beetle effects on plant growth. Of these, 24 contained the minimum quantitative data necessary to include in a meta-analysis. Overall, we found that dung beetles increased plant growth by 17%; the 95% CI for possible values for the true increase in plant growth that were most compatible with our data, given our statistical model, ranged from 1% to 35%. We found evidence that the dung beetle-plant growth relationship is influenced by the plant measurement type and the number of beetles accessing the dung. However, beetles did not increase plant growth in all quantitative trials, as individual effect sizes ranged from -72% to 806%, suggesting important context-dependence in the provision of ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20232885
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2019
Early online date20 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2024


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