Dynamics of Dung Invertebrate Communities, and Their Contributions to Profitability in RegenerativeRrangelands

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2021
Grant Recipient: Ecdysis Foundation
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: biological control
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Regenerative rangeland management employs practices that improve soil health and conserves biodiversity while producing nutrient dense food profitably. Dung insects are important in rangeland function, but the effects of herd and rangeland management on their services and economic contributions to the ranch remain poorly understood. Our goal is to characterize the effects of regeneratively and continuously grazed rangelands on dung invertebrate diversity and dung degradation rates, explore how plant diversity influences these dynamics, and assign an economic value of these services under different management scenarios in North and South Dakota. A character matrix based on producer interviews will be used to categorize ranches as regenerative and conventional based on their management practices. Dung insects will be collected from soil cores through pats, and plant communities will be described from transects and quadrat samples. Dung degradation rates and fecal associated parasites will be determined under different rangeland management scenarios. Economic models will be developed that calculate the cost benefits of dung degradation based on pasture fouling, nutrient incorporation, and pest reduction to value dung degradation services under the two management systems. Ranchers are a crucial participants in this project in several capacities. Rancher interest is what prompted the creation of the project, participating ranchers will define the best management practices of the two systems based on their operation, will maintain the experimental sites, and will be instruments to disseminate the results to their communities. Outreach is a major priority for the work, and field days, presentations at stakeholder meetings, dissemination through extension and stakeholder groups, and social and traditional media are all venues to ensure that our research will reach a wide target audience. The results of these experiments will provide ranchers with an understanding of how invertebrate diversity contributes to the profitability of regenerative and conventional rangelands, and provide ranchers with tools to assess the effectiveness of their management method, ultimately increasing the adoption of regenerative grazing and other biodiversity conservation management methods.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research objectives are:

    1. Describe the effect of regenerative grazing on invertebrate diversity in cattle dung.
    2. Estimate dung degradation rates and fecal parasite removal contributed by dung invertebrate communities.
    3. Determine how plant community characteristics affect dung insect diversity.
    4. Estimate the economic contributions of dung degradation to rancher profitability.

    Learning outcomes include a better understanding of how cattle management affects dung invertebrate services, as well as how these services are related to plant diversification on ranches. The major action outcome will be economic justification of dung invertebrate conservation under different cattle management scenarios.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.