My research looks to understand how insects and other invertebrates support sustainable agricultural production. Insects play numerous roles within agriculture through services which include: pollination, soil formation, dung decomposition and pest control. Routine management practices can act to disturb ecological communities, and impair the beneficial services they provide.
Presently, my research focuses on insects of the cow dung community – in particular, dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae; Geotrupidae). Dung beetles feed on, tunnel through, and bury livestock dung. This frees the pasture surface allowing grass to grow. The activity of these beetles promotes many other benefits in association which include: reducing soil compaction, stimulating the feeding activity of soil invertebrates, limiting greenhouse gas fluxes from dung, and suppressing E.coli contamination on fresh produce.
Ecosystem services provided by dung beetles are at risk of being lost, as these insects are very sensitive to perturbations. From a beetles perspective, management of farmland can feel like a barrage. For instance, in order to achieve higher yields, some farming systems will choose farming practices which include: removal of non-agricultural landscape elements (some beetles overheat easily and require shade), reseeding pastures with more productive species (larvae are very soft, and are mashed during soil disturbance).
I am particularly interested in understanding the non-target impacts of veterinary anthelmintics. The most widely used group are the macrocyclic lactones: celebrated for their efficacy, and negligible mammalian toxicity. However, an unfortunate side effect of their use is that macrocyclic lactones are not fully metabolised by livestock. Following treatment, livestock dung can contain concentrations of anthelmintics which can kill, or severely impair dung beetles and other beneficial taxa. Sub-lethal effects can occur at exposures as low as one part per billion!
My current research looks to better understand the various consequences of intensive pasture management on soil/dung invertebrates, and the various ecosystem services they provide. A list of my published research can be found here.