Besides the press release text below, you can see a post about this review article at Animal Ecology in Focus, the blog of Journal of Animal Ecology:

[Español] Puedes encontrar una versión en español de esta nota de prensa en:, y una entrevista para el programa “Esta es mi tierra” de TV Aragón en

Faced with environmental disturbances, such as an increase in temperature or a decrease in humidity, living beings react by changing their life habits, their diet, and their morphological, physiological, or reproductive traits. Functional ecology studies the attributes that change due to environmental variations or that have ecological importance, that is, that influence the habitat and the functioning of ecosystems. This branch of science is quite developed in plant species because, by staying in the same place, it is easier to analyze how they react to changes or measure their effect on ecosystems. However, it is a less developed discipline with animal species due in part to their mobility. In this study, an international research team led by researchers from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN-CSIC) has compiled the data that is known about dung beetles, which include the famous roller beetles, to determine which dung beetle traits influence ecosystems when they change. In addition to helping in the choice of measures to protect natural systems, this research lays the foundation for applying functional ecology to other animal groups.

Dung beetles are nature’s quintessential recyclers and influence many ecosystem processes. These animals, like other living beings, can change their behavior (for example, changes in reproductive periods or eating habits), as well as their physical characteristics (changes in the size or length of the legs) when environmental conditions change. Traits or attributes of ecological importance are those that, when modified, change either the health or reproductive success of that specific specimen or other species or cause changes in the biogeochemical cycles of the ecosystem, such as carbon sequestration or soil composition. “We have compiled all the information that was available about the group to determine which attributes change when the environment changes, which we call response traits, and which attributes have effects on the ecosystem, which we call effect traits,” explains Joaquín Hortal, a researcher at the MNCN. “By identifying which are both response traits and effect traits, we have been able to determine which traits could change their influence in ecosystems as a response to environmental changes, thus modifying natural cycles,” continues the researcher.

Dung beetles show diverse responses to variations in temperature, water, soil properties, trophic resources, light, vegetation structure, competition, predation, and parasitism. The team has identified 66 attributes of dung beetles, of which 51 are response traits, 31 are effect traits, and 27 of them are both, that is, they are those that, when changing in response to the environment, can change behavior. of the ecosystems. The traits described belong to six categories: morphology, feeding, reproduction, physiology, activity and movement.

This research lays the foundations to determine which of all the effects produced by environmental alterations on species can in turn trigger important changes in the ecosystem. “Our research provides the basis for establishing a framework for the study of the functional ecology of dung beetles and possibly also serves as a basis for other groups of insects,” says Indradatta de Castro Arrazola, a former MNCN predoctoral researcher who now works at the University from Granada.


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