Study finds bugs can cut methane on the ranch

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Some argue the best way to reduce greenhouse gasses is by decreasing livestock production and eating more bugs, but one study shows we can cut methane by keeping a particular insect around the farm.

Research from the University of Helsinki finds beetles living in cow pats may reduce emissions of methane, a gas associated with global warming. Science Daily reports much of the methane from livestock enters the environment with every cow burp, but some escapes from dung pats. The study shows beetles tunneling through those pats aerates them, easing anaerobic conditions and preventing carbon dioxide from converting to methane.

Tomas Roslin, head of the research team explains the impact of the beetles in preventing the release of methane from cow pats and why carbon dioxide is easier to manage than methane.

"The question is rather in what form it is released. If carbon is first taken up by plants as carbon dioxide, then emitted in the same format by the cows eating the plants, then the effect of plants passing through cattle will be small in terms of global warming. But if in the process the same carbon is converted from carbon dioxide to methane -- a gas with a much higher impact on climate -- it is then that we need to worry."

A concern the research team identified is that many dung beetle species are declining.

The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Other studies have focused on reducing methane by changing the genetics, or diets, of beef and dairy cows so they burp less.  

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Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  August, 27, 2013 at 08:22 AM

If we have to change what we raise and eat to reduce global warming from methane, why doesn't the Far East have to change what they raise and eat? Rice fields produce at least 20% of the global methane gas, can't they come up with a grain they can raise without flooding all those fields? Oh wait, only cows in the US are the problem. Never mind.

December, 27, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Farmers need more information like this. We also need more conscientious biologists and fewer profit-oriented chemists working to help us feed the world. If we don't learn to live with insects in balance with natural systems, we will be increasingly sorry. Feed-through insecticides have been responsible for drastic reductions in all kinds of highly beneficial insects. Pesticides encourage adaptation; witness how the use of fly tags have produced generations of pesticide resistant flies. Meanwhile, the honeybees that pollinate our crops and feed us their surplus honey are dying off in alarming numbers.

Kenny Fox    
Belvidere SD  |  December, 27, 2013 at 11:52 AM

If we go back to the photosynthesis cycle the release of carbon dioxide is a natural occuring process which plants need to survive. Plants emit oxygen so animals and humans can survive. Animals and humans emit carbon dioxide which inturn keeps plants alive thus the cyle of life keeps occuring. So in my opinion if we submit to the global warming theory we will cause ourselves to become extinct / end of story.

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