deCastro-Arrazola, I., Hortal, J., Noriega, J.A. & Sánchez-Piñero, F. (2020) Assessing the functional relationship between dung beetle traits and dung removal, burial and seedling emergence. Ecology, 101, e03138. doi:10.1002/ECY.3138
The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is often assessed through trait diversity. However, the relationship between traits and functions is typically assumed but seldom tested. We analyze the relationship between dung beetle traits and three ecological functions: dung removal, dung burial, and seedling emergence. We set up a laboratory experiment using nine Scarabaeidae species (three endocoprids, four paracoprids, and two telecoprids). We placed a sexual pair of beetles in each experimental unit, together with a mixture of dung and seeds, and measured the amount of dung removed and buried, burial depth, and the number of emerged seedlings. Sixteen morphological traits related to dung removal and burial were measured in each individual. Results indicate that these traits were related to dung beetle performance in dung removal and burial. Most traits were positively related to dung removal, indicating the existence of a general trait syndrome associated with dung manipulation and digging capability. Dung exploitation strategies did not provide further explanatory power. Seedling emergence showed a negative but weak relationship with dung burial amount and depth and species identity. This implies that specific differences in dung–soil interface activity may be important in secondary seed dispersal by dung beetles.