Dung beetle conservation biogeography in southern Africa: current challenges and potential effects of climatic change

  • Adrian L. V. DavisEmail author
  • Clarke H. Scholtz
Original Paper


Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene changes to the geomorphology, climate and vegetation of southern Africa are considered responsible for radical differences between southwest and northeast dung beetle assemblages (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) leading to current endemism in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. This bias is supported by distributional analysis of 437 species across vegetation regions and 2° × 2° squares of latitude and longitude using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) and minimum spanning trees (MST). The ordinal values for six NMDS dimensions showed significant correlations with annual rainfall, annual temperature, rainfall seasonality and altitude. Significant climatic differences were also shown between six regional centres defined and modelled for the subcontinent: winter/bimodal rainfall, southwest arid, southeast highlands, savanna, sandy savanna and east coast. Twenty-one, principal, subregional centres defined from further NMDS and MST analyses of regional data showed significant intra-regional differences in climatic attributes although published data suggest that soil, vegetation and dung type associations were frequent additional influences. Species showing the smallest ranges were centred primarily around the coast and bordering escarpments, which coincide with regions and subregions showing unique environmental conditions characterized by many endemic genera and species. Published land use data indicate that large parts of these regions are highly transformed or degraded, so that some species are facing strong current threats. Furthermore, published global climatic change data suggest that many endemic species could be further threatened, especially to the southwest where the late Cenozoic trend to unique climatic and environmental conditions could, potentially, be reversed in the future.


Climate change Conservation biogeography Dung beetles Scarabaeinae Southern Africa 



We thank the JRS Biodiversity Foundation for funding both (1) validation of dung beetle identifications by one of the authors (ALVD) and (2) creation of a distributional database from reference collections of the Ditsong Museum, ARC National Collection of Insects, and former Scarab Research Group at the University of Pretoria (now donated to the IZIKO South African Museum, Cape Town). Prof. Mark Robertson is thanked for designing a script in R that speeded up manipulation of data for modelling.


Under contractual conditions attached to JRS Biodiversity Foundation Grant No. GNT60313 to CHS, the database created by the former Scarab Research Group has been made publicly available by upload onto the website of the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10531_2019_1904_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 Supplementary Figure 1. Map panels showing: A. Altitude; B. Annual rainfall; C. Annual temperature; D. Rainfall seasonality (% rain in summer, November to March); E. Climatic regions after Walter & Lieth (1964) grouped into principal rainfall regions with mid-summer region divided into savanna (pink) and Highveld (magenta) (DOC 2201 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 Supplementary Figure 2. NMDS ordination biplots (see Fig. 5) with species identity numbers added to data points (see Supplementary Table S3 for key) (DOC 4511 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 Supplementary Figure 3. Range and distribution centres of dung beetle species in five of six subregions defined for the Winter & Bimodal rainfall region (DOC 1334 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 Supplementary Figure 4. Range and distribution centres of dung beetle species in six of seven subregions defined for the Southwest Arid region (DOC 1746 kb)
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Supplementary material 5 Supplementary Figure 5. Range and distribution centres of dung beetle species in three of five subregions defined for the Southeast Highland region (DOC 940 kb)
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Supplementary material 6 Supplementary Figure 6. Range and distribution centres of dung beetle species in six of nine subregions defined for the Savanna region (DOC 1985 kb)
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Supplementary material 7 Supplementary Figure 7. Range and distribution centres of dung beetle species in the game reserve subregion of the Savanna region. (DOC 295 kb)
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Supplementary material 8 Supplementary Figure 8. Scatter plots and results for regression of significant environmental variables (Spearman r >0.4 in Table 1) on values for the first three dimensions yielded by NMDS ordination of subcontinental distribution data for 437 dung beetle species. (DOC 1128 kb)
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Supplementary material 9 (DOC 32 kb)
10531_2019_1904_MOESM10_ESM.doc (116 kb)
Supplementary material 10 (DOC 117 kb)
10531_2019_1904_MOESM11_ESM.doc (536 kb)
Supplementary material 11 (DOC 537 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Entomology, Invertebrate Systematics and Conservation GroupUniversity of PretoriaHatfieldSouth Africa

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