The Department of Agriculture today unveiled its latest weapon in the fight to reduce bush fly numbers - Western Australian school children.
Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge said thousands of children from schools across the State were being formed into a huge observer network to aid the Department's fly control efforts.
Up to 200 schools were expected to take part in the massive `Bioscan' science project when school begins next year, with 50 schools from Esperance to Geraldton already signed up. The Department was keen to see North-West schools also join in.
The children would be involved in trapping flies and dung beetles, particularly in country areas, to provide data to the Department on fly numbers and the impact of dung beetles in specific areas.
They would also study the ecology of dung beetles and flies, combining the chance to learn about science first-hand with an opportunity to contribute to the State's agricultural future.
Foreign dung beetles were first introduced to Australia in the late 1960s and WA in the early 70s to break down cattle dung left untouched by native dung beetles.
"By breaking down dung, the beetles free up polluted pasture and reduce the number of sites available to bush flies for breeding and feeding, lowering stress to agricultural livestock from fly infestations, and lowering fly numbers in populated areas," he said.
"Data collected by the schools will help the Department determine the impact of dung beetles in different areas and show where numbers are low so that more can be released."
Mr Bridge said the State Government and the CSIRO began a five-year joint biological control program in 1989, with the State contributing $500,000 and the CSIRO $330,000.
The CSIRO had collected beetles from Spain, producing eggs in Victorian laboratories before handing them over to the WA Department of Agriculture for mass rearing.
Over the years, literally millions of dung beetles had been released in WA, including 30,000 Spanish beetles in 30 localities so far this year.
"It may be a while before we can wave goodbye to the great Australian salute, but the work carried out to date has shown significant results," Mr Bridge said.
"In January-February this year - normally the most troublesome time for flies - the CSIRO showed an 88 per cent reduction in fly numbers using dung beetles in the Busselton area."
The Minister said introduced dung beetles were needed for effective biological control because our own native dung beetles were only active in winter and early spring, not in spring and summer when flies laid their eggs.
They were also restricted to forest environments and lived on mostly native animal droppings.
Mr Bridge said the dung beetle program would have many long-term benefits for agriculture, including a reduction in gastro-intestinal worms in livestock and in animal diseases such as pink eye in cattle.
"Dung beetles also improve soil quality by aerating the soil, encouraging the retention of water, and turning over nitrogen in the soil, which reduces the need to apply superphosphate."
The incidence of the eye disease trachoma in humans would also be reduced with a reduction in bush flies. The disease affects many Aboriginal communities in WA.