Investigating the behaviour of dung beetles

Background information:
Dung beetles are considered ecosystem engineers as they contribute to nutrient cycling by recycling dung from the soil surface and making nutrients available to plants. When European colonised Australia, they brought with them livestock. While Australia has a diverse dung beetle fauna, Australian dung beetles have co-evolved with marsupial species which produce dry and fibrous pellets. Therefore, they could not use the wetter dung produced by livestock. The accumulation of dung on the soil surface reduced pasture available for livestock, caused water pollution and provided breeding grounds for flies and parasites. Furthermore, the nutrients remained at the soil surface and were not available for uptake by plants. For these reasons, dung beetles specialised on livestock dung were introduced to Australia from Europe and Africa since the 1960s. Twenty-three species are now established, however, gaps in dung beetle activity remain geographically and seasonally. This is the case for early spring in southern Australia when there are no active beetles to remove dung from the soil surface. A new importation program was therefore started in 2018 to address this activity gap by introducing three new species. To import a new species successfully, research into the biology and ecology of each species is needed. Roller dung beetle species have particular behaviours that make them more difficult to rear under laboratory conditions. For example, in some species individuals will compete fiercely, while in other species they will aggregate before dispersing. Understanding these behaviours will contribute to the general knowledge of the target species, but also inform the conditions they require for rearing populations.

Objectives: The main objectives will be to assess the behaviour of one or two roller dung beetle species, which will ultimately inform the rearing of these species and released in Australia. The student will develop and run assays under laboratory conditions to understand interactions between individuals. For example, assays on the impact of beetle density on mating and fighting behaviours, and reproductive output could be conducted. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to choose the focus his/her project with help from his supervisors.

Profile of candidate: A Master 2 or Ingénieur or “en césure” student with background in biology, ecology or other agricultural sciences. The candidate should have a strong interest in entomology and animal behaviour. The candidate should be motivated, reliable and independent. Driving licence B would be useful.

Duration of internship: 6 months (ideally from February/March 2022)

Location: This internship will be located at the CSIRO European Laboratory (Montferrier sur Lez, 34, close to Montpellier) and will be supervised by Dr Vincent Lesieur and Alberto Zamprogna.

Stipend: The student will receive an allowance of (~550 € /month), following current guidelines.

Please send your application before December 10th, including a letter and a CV to:
Alberto Zamprogna

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