Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fossilized Dung Balls Reveal Secret Ecology Of Lost World

Date:
July 20, 2009
Source:
Wiley - Blackwell
Summary:
A new study of 30-million-year-old fossil 'mega-dung' from extinct giant South American mammals reveals evidence of complex ecological interactions and theft of dung-beetles' food stores by other animals.

Palaeontologists in Argentina have discovered that dung balls reveal much about the ecology of a lost world of giant mammals that lived 30 million years ago.
Credit: Victoria Sánchez

A new study of 30-million-year-old-fossil 'mega-dung' from extinct giant South American mammals, published in Palaeontology, reveals evidence of complex ecological interactions and theft of dung-beetles' food stores by other animals.

The dung-beetle has fallen on hard times. Once worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians its status has now slipped to that of unsung and forgotten hero, the butt of scatological jokes. Yet the dung-beetle is truly heroic. It is a well known 'fact' that were it not for the dung-beetle the world would be knee-deep in animal droppings, especially those of large herbivores like cows, rhinos and elephants which, because they eat more food, produce more waste. By burying that waste dung-beetles not only remove it from the surface, they improve and fertilise the soil and reduce the number of disease-carrying flies that would otherwise infest the dung.

If the modern dung beetle deserves praise for these global sanitation efforts, then the extinct dung beetles of ancient South America deserve a medal. Some 30 million years ago, the continent was home to what is known to palaeontologists as the South America Megafauna, including some truly giant extinct herbivores: bone covered armadillos the size of a small car, ground sloths 6 metres tall and elephant-sized hoofed-mammals unlike anything alive today. And of course, megafauna would have produced mega-dung.

The beetles certainly had their work cut out for them. And although the dung-beetles themselves did not fossilize, scientists know they were fully engaged in business because, amazingly, the results of their activities are preserved as fossil dung balls, some more than 40 million years old, and some as large as tennis balls.

Now palaeontologists in Argentina studying these dung balls have discovered that they have even more to tell us about the ecology of this lost world of giant mammals, but at a rather different scale. In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Palaeontology, Graduate Student Victoria Sánchez and Dr Jorge Genise report traces made by other creatures within fossil dung balls.

"Some of these are just the results of chance interactions" explains Dr Sánchez. "Burrowing bees, for example, dug cells in the ground where the dung balls were buried, and some of these happen to have been dug into the balls. But other traces record the behaviour of animals actively stealing the food resources set aside by the dung beetles. The shapes and sizes of these fossilized burrows and borings in the dung balls indicate that other beetles, flies and earthworms were the culprits. Although none of these animals is preserved in these rocks, the fossil dung balls preserve in amazing detail a whole dung-based ecosystem going on right under the noses of the giant herbivores of 30 million years ago."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley - Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sánchez et al. Cleptoparasitism and detritivory in dung beetle fossil brood balls from Patagonia, Argentina. Palaeontology, 2009; 52 (4): 837 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2009.00877.x

Cite This Page:

Wiley - Blackwell. "Fossilized Dung Balls Reveal Secret Ecology Of Lost World." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716093524.htm>.
Wiley - Blackwell. (2009, July 20). Fossilized Dung Balls Reveal Secret Ecology Of Lost World. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716093524.htm
Wiley - Blackwell. "Fossilized Dung Balls Reveal Secret Ecology Of Lost World." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090716093524.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) — Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) — King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) — As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins