Aphodius fossor (L.) (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), a common endocoprid dung beetle in southeastern Wyoming, may have a survival strategy to maintain dung pad integrity and moisture crucial to larval survival in an arid climate (annual precipitation <30 cm). Typically, A. fossor seems to contribute little to dung pad decomposition, because inhabited dung pads seem to be intact and weigh approximately the same as uninhabited pads, even after 1 yr on pasture. To assess the role of A. fossor in dung pad decomposition and nutrient recycling, artificially formed bovine dung pads were inoculated with five pairs of adult A. fossor. After 40 d, A. fossor activity had no measurable effect on external surface area or moisture retention within the dung pad cores. Pads inhabited by A. fossor weighed significantly more than did control pads on most weigh dates of the experiment, possibly because of incorporation of soil particles at the dung/soil interface. Externally, A. fossor-inhabited dung pads seemed intact; however extensive tunneling was evident throughout the core of the pad leaving an intact, protective crust. A. fossor activity increased microbial biomass carbon in the soil beneath the dung pad. Levels of total nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) decreased in the pads but increased in soil beneath the pads. Dung in the core and in the crust of pads with A. fossor had significantly less total N than pads with no beetles and total C was significantly lower in the crust.
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Vol. 99 • No. 6