People often think that all bugs are pests. In fact, the vast majority of bugs
are harmless, and many are beneficial to humans. Insects and other bugs
pollinate human crops, decompose dead plants and animals, and are a major
source of food for other animals.
Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the male parts to the
female parts of flowering plants so that they can form seeds and fruits.
Partnerships between bugs and flowering plants began over 100 million years ago
and insects have always been the main pollinators. Humans are very dependent on
this process, as flowering plants are the main source of food, timber and
fibre, and provide forage crops for livestock.
Water bugs are excellent indicators of water quality and ecosystem health. This
is because each aquatic bug species can tolerate a particular level of
pollution, temperature, mud or silt in the water. While a few bug species are
highly tolerant, most will die with changes to their environmental conditions
or increases in pollution. By sampling the aquatic bugs in a pond or stream,
scientists can accurately assess the water quality and detect changes in that
area over time.
Many bugs live by transforming dead plants and animals into nutrients. These
decomposers are essential for healthy ecosystems, and are as important to
natural environments as they are to suburban compost bins.
The dung beetle is an important decomposer. There are about 7000 species of dung
beetles worldwide and between them they clean up the mess left behind by the
rest of the animal kingdom. By burying dung, these beetles recycle nutrients,
aerate the soil and reduce fly numbers.
Australia’s 400 species of native dung beetles are efficient at cleaning up the
small, dry dung pellets produced by kangaroos and wombats. Cowpats, however,
are a different story! When cows were introduced to Australia, our native dung
beetles could not cope with their huge, wet cowpats. Soon grazing land became
fouled and fly numbers rocketed to plague proportions.
To solve the problem, 56 different species of dung beetle were introduced from
around the world. Of these, 20 species are still happily eating and burying the
12 million cowpats produced every hour by Australia’s 30 million cows.