Human Land Use and Dung Beetles

Human Land Use and Dung Beetles

Almost every spot on earth shows signs of human influence, modification, or destruction. Human land use, be it agriculture, forestry, or urbanization, almost always leads to a reduction of the number of species that can persist in such areas. The species-rich dung beetles are suitable for studying the effects of land use because many species react early to changes in vegetation cover, microclimate, or provision of food resources. Since 1995, my teams of students and I have studied the ecology of dung beetles and the influence of human land use on dung beetle communities. In West and East Africa, in Ivory Coast and Kenya, we investigated the effects of agricultural practices, pasture, burning, logging, and urbanization. Our main sites in the Ivory Coast were situated in the Parc National de la Comoé, in the village of Bringakro, and in Abidjan, in collaboration with the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques and the Université d’Abobo-Adjamé. In Kenya, we worked in and around Kakamega Forest, in collaboration with ICIPE and the National Museums of Kenya. We are not continuing overseas fieldwork at the moment but are busy at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science working on the thousands of samples and hundreds of thousands of specimens collected in Africa. We will continue publishing results in the years to come.

Here in Colorado, our Scarab Survey, launched in 2007, will provide baseline data on the current distribution of scarab beetles and will compile historic data; this will allow us to determine the possible effects of human land use in the past and faunal changes in the future.

What We're Working On

For species identification, beetles need to be pinned to or glued on a piece of archival cardboard. Our team of great entomology collection assistant volunteers will likely finish pinning and mounting all of our backlog from the 1990s within a year, when volunteer operations will be resumed. Before the break due to Covid, they were already busy with backlog samples from the land use studies from Bringakro (Ivory Coast), opening the opportunity to evaluate our data at species level. Wonderful work! We cannot wait welcoming our volunteers back.


Krell, F.-T. & Moon, A.R. 2019. Quick guides: Dung beetles. Current Biology 29 (12): R554‒R555. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.05.027


Barnes, A.D., Emberson, R.M., Krell, F.-T. & Didham, R.K. 2014. The role of species traits in mediating functional recovery during matrix restoration. PLOS ONE 9(12): e115385 (19 pp.). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115385

Barnes, A.D., Emberson, R.M., Chapman, H.M., Krell, F.-T. & Didham, R.K. 2014. Matrix habitat restoration alters dung beetle species responses across tropical forest edges. Biological Conservation 170: 28–37. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.12.006

Theuerkauf, J., Rouys, S., van Berge Henegouwen, A.L., Krell, F.-T., Mazur, S. & Mühlenberg, M. 2009. Colonisation of forest elephant dung by invertebrates in the Bossematié Forest Reserve, Ivory Coast. Zoological Studies 48 (3): 343–350.


Frank-Thorsten Krell, PhD

Senior Curator of Entomology

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