Dung beetle mothers protect their offspring from a warming world by digging deeper

If the TV series “Dirty Jobs” covered animals as well as humans, it would probably start with dung beetles. These hardworking critters are among the insect world’s most important recyclers. They eat and bury manure from many other species, recycling nutrients and improving soil as they go.

Dung beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica, in forests, grasslands, prairies and deserts. And now, like many other species, they are coping with the effects of climate change.

I am an ecologist who has spent nearly 20 years studying dung beetles. My research spans tropical and temperate ecosystems, and focuses on how these beneficial animals respond to temperature changes.

Insects don’t use internally generated heat to maintain their body temperature. Adults can take actions such as moving to warmer or colder areas. However, earlier life stages such as larvae are often less mobile, so they can be strongly affected by changing temperatures.

But dung beetles appear to have a defense: I have found that adult dung beetles modify their nesting behaviors in response to temperature changes by burying their brood balls deeper in the soil, which protects their developing offspring.