Dung Beetles, Soil Microbes and Carbon Sequestration in Pasturelands

Mentor & Lab: Suzanne Lipton – Philpott Lab

Positions: 2 interns

Tentative dates: June 26 – August 11, 2023

Project Location: Ranches in the Central Coast region, within 1.5 hours of Santa Cruz (day trips) and Main Campus

Project Background: This project, led by Suzanne Lipton, a Ph.D. student in the Philpott lab (ENVS), investigates the effect of landscape and grazing management on dung beetle abundance and diversity on ranches in the Central Coast (and slightly inland) region of California. This is the third year of data collection for this project. Dung beetles aid with nutrient cycling (nitrogen and phosphorus in particular) in pasture systems by eating dung and also burying it in the soil as brood balls where they lay their eggs. There are three different functional types of dung beetles: dwellers that dwell in the dung, tunnellers that tunnel underneath the dung, bringing dung with them, and rollers, that roll dung away from the dung pile and bury it in the ground. In the central coast of California, there are varying species, which vary between ranches and landscapes. By examining dung beetle diversity across 19 different fields/7 different ranches in the Central Coast region, this project will determine how management practices and landscape features on the Central Coast influence dung beetle abundance and functional diversity.

Intern duties: The field work involves going to ranches in the area, and monitoring dung beetle populations by setting traps and assessing dung beetle abundance and diversity across fields and ranches several days per week. The interns for this project will be expected to join for all field visits. Field visits will involve setting up traps for dung beetles one day and counting and identifying dung beetles in the traps the next day. Full disclosure—this involves collecting and handling cow dung (with a shovel/gloves) and looking through cow dung to identify beetles (also gloved). Most of the ranches are within an hour’s drive of Santa Cruz. The intern will be able to carpool with the project lead from Santa Cruz, or drive themselves. Fieldwork will involve some hiking to set and collect traps. Interns will also be expected to engage in lab work, which involves taking photos of dung beetles with a microscope camera and identifying dung beetles based off of previous collections. Interns will also collate the collected dung beetles and collect and collate related data for the project in the lab one day per week.

Intern qualifications: Interns should be comfortable with 6-7 hours in the field in potentially hot conditions (with appropriate breaks for water/food/shade); one of the inland ranch sites is in Paicines, where it can reach 100 degrees on a mid-summer afternoon. Other ranch sites will be on the coast with milder temperatures. Interns should be comfortable being in the proximity of cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, and herding dogs, as well as interacting with animal manure and beetles/other arthropods. We will drive to all field sites, but there will be some mild hiking at the field sites while carrying equipment. Interns should also be comfortable with car rides of up to 1.5 hours without stops.

Do you recommend the intern(s) volunteer in your lab during Spring quarter?
Yes, if the intern is available it would be great if they could volunteer in the spring quarter to learn about the sampling procedure and about how cool dung beetles are!

UC Santa Cruz Land Acknowledgement

The land from which we base our work is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.