Wednesday 12 February 2020

El Niño contributes to insect collapse in the Amazon

Date: February 10, 2020
Source: Lancaster University

Hotter and drier El Niño events are having an alarming effect on biodiversity in the Amazon Rainforest and further add to a disturbing global insect collapse, scientists show.

A new study focusing on the humble, but ecologically key, dung beetle has revealed for the first time that intense droughts and wildfires during the last El Niño climate phenomenon, combined with human disturbance, led to beetle numbers falling by more than half -- with effects lasting for at least two years.

Although the El Niño of 2015-16 captured less attention than the deforestation fires of 2019, it delivered a very significant drought and, in combination with human activities such as agriculture and deforestation, contributed to mega wildfires that burned more than 3 million hectares of Amazon forests, including a million hectares in just one region.

The effects of droughts and wildfires on Amazonia's trees have been studied for decades, but researchers were less clear about the impacts on fauna and the role they have in ecosystem functioning.

Dung beetles are key for spreading nutrients and seeds, and they are important indicator insects used to gauge the overall health of an ecosystem.

An international team of scientists from the UK, Brazil and New Zealand counted more than 14,000 dung beetles from 98 species across 30 forest plots in the Brazilian state of Pará, within the Amazon, through several surveys conducted between 2010 and 2017. They also monitored how much dung was removed and how many seeds were dispersed by dung beetles.

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