Sunday, 25 August 2013

Beetles Modify Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Cow Pats

Aug. 22, 2013 — Cattle contribute to global warming by burping and farting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Some of the same gases are also emitted from cow pats on pastures. But now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in cow pats may reduce emissions of the key greenhouse gas -- methane.

Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Among these, cattle farming for meat and milk are major sources of methane, a gas with a potent warming effect. Much of this methane comes from the guts of ruminating cattle, but some escapes from dung pats on pastures. Now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in the cow pats may reduce emissions of methane. The study has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Atte Penttilä, who undertook the study for his Masters, explains: "Cow pats offer a prime food for a large number of organisms. In fact, there are probably as many beetle species living in dung as there are bird species on this planet."

Of the dung beetles living in Northern Europe, most spend their entire lives within the dung pats. "We believe that these beetles exert much of their impact by simply digging around in the dung. Methane is primarily born under anaerobic conditions, and the tunneling by beetles seems to aerate the pats. This will have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pats into the atmosphere."

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