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Beetle diversity is influenced by energy stored in dead wood

Although scientists have long known that energy is key to life, the connection between available energy and biodiversity in ecosystems is not yet clear. 

While ecosystems with higher energy input – such as those exposed to stronger solar radiation near the equator – are clearly endowed with greater biodiversity, not all ecosystems seem to draw their energy exclusively from the sun. This raises important questions, such as which type of energy promotes biodiversity and whether energy sources change along specific food chains.  

Now, by analyzing beetles that live in deadwood in forests across Europe, a team of researchers led by Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) has found that energy can also be stored chemically in resources such as wood, and that beetle diversity is influenced differently by energy types depending on their position in the food chain. 

“Species like the stag beetle, whose larvae feed directly on dead wood and are thus at the bottom of the food chain, benefit in their diversity from the amount of energy stored in the wood,” said study lead author Peter Kriegel, a PhD student in Biodiversity at JMU. “The more sugar compounds are stored in the heartwood, the greater their diversity.”

By contrast, at the top end of deadwood beetles’ food pyramid are species such as the ant beetle, which feed on other insects. Rather than being affected by the energy stored in the wood, these beetles’ diversity is much more influenced by solar radiation.

These findings are crucial for basic ecological research and could help slow down alarming developments such as global insect decline. In future research, the scientists plan to turn their attention to biodiversity in deadwood that is not openly visible, to clarify which are the sources such organisms draw their energy from.

“Using methods such as DNA sequencing, we want to detect the molecular traces of hidden organisms: Bacteria, fungi without fruiting bodies, but also groups of insects which are difficult to determine and are therefore often neglected,” Kriegel concluded.

The study is published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Beetles are indicators of ecosystem health

Beetles play several important roles in our ecosystem, which make them indispensable. Here are a few key reasons:


Many species of beetles, such as carrion beetles and dung beetles, are vital for breaking down and decomposing dead animals and feces. This is an essential part of the nutrient cycle in ecosystems as it helps to return nutrients to the soil, promoting plant growth.

Pest Control

Some types of beetles, like ladybugs, feed on pests that can harm or destroy crops. This makes them invaluable for natural pest control.


Certain beetles are known to contribute to pollination, which is critical for plant reproduction. While they may not be as efficient as bees or butterflies, they do play a role in the pollination of certain types of plants.

Food Source

Beetles serve as a food source for a large number of animals, including birds, reptiles, and other insects. Their role in the food chain is crucial for maintaining biodiversity.

Biodiversity Indicators

Beetles constitute the largest group of organisms, with over 350,000 known species. The diversity and sensitivity of beetles to ecological changes make them excellent indicators of overall biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Human Benefits

Certain beetles are also beneficial for human activities. For instance, the dung beetle helps in improving soil structure and fertility, which is beneficial for farming and agriculture. Also, the study of beetles can lead to scientific advancements and breakthroughs.

However, it’s worth noting that not all beetles are beneficial. Some species can cause significant damage to crops, forests, and stored products. For example, bark beetles can kill large numbers of trees, and weevils can ruin stored grains or attack crops.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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