S e e d s   t o   M o n k e y s   t o   B e e t l e s

By comparison to the monkeys, dung beetles are secondary seed dispersers, which means that they don’t take the seeds directly from the plants, they affect the seeds only after the monkeys have first relocated them. In the forest, monkeys eat the fruit, move to a different place, defecate the seeds, and then the dung beetles come and take the dung to yet another place, with the seeds still inside. Ellen explains, “Oh, the dung beetles don’t care about the seeds, they are only interested in the dung. They take the dung and bury it for use as food later, and if there are seeds inside, then the seeds get buried, too.”

Ellen is interested in what happens to the seeds as they are affected by the dung beetles. If the seeds are buried to a good depth, they will germinate; if they are buried too deep, they won’t. But even the absence of dung beetles is interesting. “If the dung beetles don’t find the dung, and don’t bury the seeds, the seeds may then be food for rodents, which means the seeds will never get to germinate.”

To test her hypotheses, Ellen works in the forest out of Camp 41 and other nearby sites. Which brings us to the dung. Working with dung beetles means, unfortunately, that you have to collect a lot of dung. “No, I don’t like dung, but like anything, you get used to it. Actually, I have to admit, now when I find a lot of dung in one place it makes me very happy, makes my day.” Ellen has to laugh at this, she’s used to people’s eyebrows raising when they ask her about her work. She claims further, “Well, these monkeys, the howlers, are herbivores, eating mostly fruits and leaves, so their dung is not as bad as carnivore dung.” All things being relative, of course.

Ellen’s Interview/Journals Seeds to Monkeys to Beetles    1     2     3     4