In April 2022, I led the first biological expedition focusing on dung beetles at Mount Mabu in the Zambézia Province of Mozambique. The expedition team was composed of Dr Werner Strümpher (Ditsong Museum of Natural History), Mr Isildo Nganhane (Universidade Lúrio, Mozambique) and I (PI of the project – Fig. 1). Werner and I flew from South Africa to Nampula (northern Mozambique), and Isildo took a bus from Maputo to Nampula. We hired a company that drove us from Nampula to the village of Tacuane (Zambézia Province, Mozambique). There is no road from Tacuane to Mount Mabu, thus, we hired local porters to carry our camping/kitchen gear and fieldwork equipment (Fig. 2). We took eight hours of hiking from Tacuane to the camping site inside of Mabu Forest.
What is Taxonomy?
Biological taxonomy is the scientific discipline of classifying and naming the organisms that compose present and past biodiversity as formal units or entities, the taxa. Its work consists of three steps: (1) the recognition, delimitation, and differential definition (or diagnosis) of the basic discrete units resulting from the evolutionary process (the species), (2) the establishment of a hierarchical classification of these taxa reflecting their evolutionary relationships, and (3) their naming according to nomenclatural rules relying on museum-kept voucher specimens (so-called ‘types’).
In the current era of the internet, social media and online databases together with the development of digital photography, more and more new species and new regional records are discovered by the general public. Plant and animal enthusiasts and photographers are increasingly posting images on platforms such as Flickr, Instagram, iNaturalist, Facebook and Twitter.
Why should we care about dung beetles?
Dung beetles provide valuable ecological and economic services. The net value of dung beetles is estimated at ~$2 billion per year for the agriculture and cattle industries worldwide. As nutrient recyclers, dung beetles aid in dung decomposition while integrating the natural fertilizer in the soil.
What are dung beetles?
Well, beetles that feed on dung. But while this is largely true, the definition of dung beetle is actually more complicated, being a mixture of an ecological trait (coprophagy) and a taxonomic classification (belonging to the scarabs). So dung beetles are those species of the large superfamily of scarab beetles (Scarabaeoidea) that feed on manure or belong to a taxonomic group that contains mainly dung-feeders. Dung feeding (coprophagy) has evolved several times within the scarabs, with the major groups being the Geotrupidae (dor beetles; ~150 species), the Aphodiinae (dung dwellers; ~3,500 species, Figure 1), and the Scarabaeinae (the dung beetles proper; ~7,000 species, Figure 2).