Global distribution patterns provide evidence of niche shift by the introduced African dung beetle Digitonthophagus gazella.
The establishment of cattle ranches throughout the world has prompted the release of dung beetles as biological control agents that reduce pasture fouling and control dung-breeding flies. One of these beetles, Digitonthophagus gazella (Fabricius) (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), that is native to southeast Africa, has been introduced into the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. Distribution records for this species have been used to develop climate models of potential future establishment. Recent studies, however, identify D. gazella as a complex of seven species. Taking into account this revision, and the clear identification of the records belonging to the actual D. gazella, we developed environmental models to identify factors that have contributed to the establishment of this species across regions and habitats. We compared the environmental conditions of D. gazella in its native range against those in the regions where the species has or has not established. Our results indicate that D. gazella is still absent in certain parts of Central and South America and parts of Africa where it could potentially establish. We speculate that its distribution in Africa is limited by competitive exclusion. The introduction of D. gazella in America is relatively recent, such that the full extent of its distribution has probably yet to be realized. In Australia and North America, D. gazella is present in regions not predicted according to its native environmental conditions. This discrepancy may reflect a lack of competitive exclusion, phenotypic plasticity, and/or genetic adaptation. Our analyses suggest that the species has the ability to adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions that are extremely different from those in their native region. The species represents a useful case study to indicate that an introduced species may expand its realized niche beyond what is expected based on apparent environmental limits in the species native range.