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Southeast Asian Dung Beetles

Dung beetles are an ecologically important insect taxa providing many ecosystem functions and services, such as nutrient cycling, soil aeration, and secondary seed dispersal (check out the video below). They are also an excellent model taxon for biodiversity research as they respond rapidly to environmental changes and can be sampled cost-effectively. We are using an integrative approach combining ecological, molecular, and evolutionary methods to document the impacts of land-use and climate change on the dung beetles of Southeast Asia.


We combine data on species morphological, behavioural, and physiological traits, with data on species abundances, composition, and associated ecosystem functions across land use gradients.  This allows us to predict how species will respond to land use change, climate change, and the distributions of mammals, and the consequences for ecosystem functioning. We are also using population genomics and manipulative experiments to study genetic differences across habitats, the response of species to temperature manipulations, and barriers to gene flow in human-modified environments.


Accurate information on the taxonomy and distribution of the dung beetles in Southeast Asia is currently lacking. To rectify this, we have embarked on a GBIF/BIFA-funded project which aims to increase knowledge of dung beetles in Singapore and Bornean Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) through the mobilisation of georeferenced occurrence records from existing literature and collection specimens and generating DNA barcode sequences for species. Species checklists, occurrence records, sequence data and resource metadata datasets will be collated along with the creation of user-friendly keys and guides. These databases and guides will be open-access and made freely available to build capacity among Southeast Asian stakeholders. 

Find out more about this project here:
Mobilising data on ecologically important insects in Malaysia and Singapore

Selected Publications

Species Interactions

Despite many studies on the impacts of habitat degradation and modification on diversity in tropical forests, the cascading functional consequences of these anthropogenic changes remain poorly understood. Thus, while the majority of research has focused on species as the unit of biodiversity loss, an overlooked component of biodiversity loss is the extinction of ecological interactions. These are important as they often accompany or precede the loss of species, and may have direct effects for ecosystem functionality.


We have been building the first interaction networks linking dung beetles and mammals and investigating how these networks change across a land-use gradient from forest to oil palm plantations.  With these networks, we will test fundamental ideas about the consequences of species extinctions for ecological interactions and the cascading effects on ecosystem processes.

Selected Publications
  • Chiew LY, Hackett TD, Brodie, JF, Teoh SW, Burslem DFRP, Reynolds G, Deere NJ, Vairappan CS, Slade EM (2021). Tropical forest dung beetle-mammal dung interaction networks remain similar across an environmental disturbance gradient. Journal of Animal Ecology.

  • Drinkwater R, Williamson J, Clare EL, Chung AYC, Rossiter SJ, Slade EM (2021). Dung beetles as samplers of mammals in Malaysian Borneo - a test of high throughput metabarcoding of iDNA. PeerJ 9:e11987. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11897/fig-1 

  • Ong XRSlade EM, Lim MLM (2020). Dung beetle-megafauna trophic in Singapore's fragmented forests. Biotropica 52: 818-824.


Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning

We are interested in understanding how ecological diversity and functioning are affected in human-modified landscapes, and use surveys along habitat modification gradients to detect patterns, combined with manipulative field experiments, to gain a mechanistic understanding of ecological interactions and biodiversity-function linkages.


With our collaborators, we have developed new approaches to measuring species interactions on ecosystem multifunctionality in terrestrial animal systems, and shown that optimising multifunctionality is context-dependent and contingent upon how ecosystem services are valued.

Selected Publications
  • Keller N, Meerveld IV, Ghazoul J, Chiew LY, Philipson CD, Godoong E, Slade EM (2021). Dung beetles as hydrological engineers: effects of tunnelling on soil infiltration. Ecological Entomology.

  • Priyadarshana, TS, Lee MB, Ascher JS, Qiu L,  Goodale E (2021). Crop heterogeneity is positively associated with beneficial insect diversity in subtropical farmlands. Journal of Applied Ecology, 00, 1–13.

  • Slade EM, Bagchi R, Keller N, Philipson CD (2019). When Do More Species Maximize More Ecosystem Services? Trends in Plant Science 24(9): 790-793.


Habitat Fragmentation & Connectivity

The lack of high-resolution data on movements and dispersal of many invertebrate species is hindering our ability to predict the consequences of loss of both species, and interactions among species, under changing environmental conditions. We are interested in the landscape-scale implications of fragmentation, and how species use fragmented forest patches and connectivity 'corridors' to disperse and move across human-modified landscapes. In Singapore, we are researching ways to restore connectivity in urban landscapes, with a focus on invertebrates that provide important ecosystem functions and services (e.g. pollination, decomposition, nutrient recycling). We also study the effects of logging and conversion to oil palm and the importance of protected areas for invertebrates, and the ecosystem functions and services they provide.


We have been working with the Roundtable of on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO), the South East Asian Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and the Sabah State Government of Malaysia to contribute to the development of policy and best practices in the oil palm industry, and among government agencies engaged with land-use planning in Sabah, to ensure connectivity remains within the landscapes, and to update guidelines for the management of riparian areas. 

Selected Publications
  • Tansley MJ, Veryard R, Simonsen DF, Morford J, Chung AYC, Parrett JM, Slade EM (2021). Rivers are not complete barriers to the movement of tropical forest dung beetles. Sepilok Bulletin 30: 1-18.

  • Hui TCYSlade EM, Chong Ju Lian (2021). Roadkills in Northern Peninsular Malaysia. Frontiers in Environmental Science.

  • Gray REJ, Rodriguez LF, Lewis OT, Chung AYC, Ovaskainen O, Slade EM (2021). Movement of forest-dependent dung beetles through riparian buffers in Bornean oil palm plantations. Journal of Applied Ecology.

  • Williamson JSlade EM, Luke SH, Swinfield T, Chung AYC, ..... Struebig MJ (2020). Riparian buffers act as microclimatic refugia in oil palm landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13784.