The megadiverse Scarabaeoidea (scarabs, stags, and bess beetles) consists of over 31,000 species that are distributed worldwide and includes many important agricultural pests, agents of biological control of dung and dung flies, important pollinators, and species used as habitat bioindicators (Jameson and Ratcliffe, 2002; Ratcliffe, et al., 2002). Despite their ecological, evolutionary, and economic significance, there is an overwhelming lack of expertise on these insects. The lack of knowledge is of concern because many species are invasive agricultural and economic pests.
Scarab beetles include beneficial and destructive species. The group is ecologically diverse with species that feed on roots, fruits, leaves, and rotting wood; those that feed on vertebrate carcasses, dung, and humus; and those that live in the nests of vertebrates and invertebrates. The group is environmentally important, with many species of conservation, agricultural, biocontrol, cultural, and ecoservice value.
Ecosystem services provided by scarab dung beetles are estimated at over $380 million in the U.S. (Losey and Vaughan, 2006). In the cattle industry, dung beetles assist with the removal of dung, allowing for growth of consumable plant material, increased nitrogen availability for forage, and reduction of pestiferous flies and parasites. Some scarabs serve as effective plant pollinators and are essential keystone species in their native habitats, such as monkey beetle chafers in southern Africa, Cetonia scarabs on European Viburnum bushes, and masked chafers that pollinate tropical palms and arums. Other scarabs, however, can be economically and agriculturally destructive.