Bison Beetle Project

Bison Beetle Project

In ecosystems with large mammals, dung beetles are a crucial component of the nutrient cycle by being responsible for breaking up dung and reintegrating dung portions into the soil. The dung beetle fauna of the North American plains is currently rather poor, is heavily invaded by European species, and does not seem capable of dung recycling at a significant scale. When 30 to 60 million bison had roamed the Great Plains 200 years ago and produced at least 130 to 260 billion dung pats per year, a more abundant and efficient dung beetle fauna can be assumed. If the presence of bison in an area results in a recovering dung beetle fauna with a higher portion of native species, bison herds can have positive implications on the maintenance of soil quality in rangelands.

We will learn from this eight-year project whether the dung beetle fauna in a prairie area changes after reintroduction of bison. We also hope to determine similarities or differences in the dung beetle fauna of (introduced) cattle and (native) bison. The project had already contributed to a study on the common red-winged Aphodius, which turned out to be two species. The fieldwork for our initial eight-year study ended in 2015, but sorting and identification are still ongoing. Stay tuned.


Krell, F.T. 2013. Bison, beetles, and immigrants. Catalyst, Denver Museum of Nature & Science Magazine 17 (June/July 2013): 6–7.

Krell, F.[-T.] & Stephenson, J.T. 2011. Living in dung. Prairie Perspectives Journal, Plains Conservation Center November 2011: 4–5.

Krell, F.-T. 2007. Dung beetle sampling protocols. Denver Museum of Nature & Science Technical Report 2007-6: 11 pp.

Where We Are Working

Our main study sites for the initial eight-year study were situated in Elbert County in Colorado—on the West Bijou property of the Savory Institute (formerly owned by the Plains Conservation Center) and on the adjacent Keen Ranch in Arapahoe County. This research was supported in 2010 by Prairie Biotic Research Inc. and featured in the inaugural issue of the journal of the Plains Conservation Center in November 2011.

In collaboration with the Denver Zoo, we are working on dung beetle samples from Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and will study the dung beetles from the bison herds at Genesee Mountain Park and Daniels Park in the Denver area.


Frank-Thorsten Krell, PhD

Senior Curator of Entomology

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