The life and death of barn beetles: faunas from manure and stored hay inside farm buildings in northern Iceland

Veronique Forbes, Andrew J. Dugmore, Erling Ólafsson

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1. Subfossil beetle remains from archaeological sites have proven invaluable for examining past living conditions, human activities, and their impacts on landscapes and ecosystems.

2. In Iceland, specific economic practices (e.g. land management and natural resource exploitation) and major historical events (i.e. colonisation, economic intensification and commercialisation, and urbanisation) have affected local environments and left recognisable traces in the beetle subfossil record.

3. Understanding the ecology of synanthropic beetles is crucial if they are to be employed in high-resolution reconstructions of past lifeways and their ecological impacts, yet, because buildings' interiors are rarely the object of systematic entomological research, the ecological requirements of many such species are poorly understood.

4. A survey was conducted of live and dead beetle faunas from habitats that have so far been largely neglected by entomological research: stable manure and stored hay inside farm buildings, two key facets of a northern European pastoral economy.

5. The present results clarify the ecological requirements of some under-studied synanthropic beetles and the processes by which their exoskeletons may become incorporated into the archaeological record while also producing new records of exotic species recently introduced to Iceland.

6. This paper provides crucial guidance for the interpretation of archaeological beetle assemblages and highlights the potential of further investigations of indoor insect faunas for clarifying the causes, processes, and ecological impacts of recent bio-invasions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)480-499
Number of pages20
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number4
Early online date10 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and received support from the Research Budget of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen. This project was undertaken as part of doctoral studies supervised by Dr Karen Milek, to whom V.F. is especially grateful for her support and advice. Thomas Birch, Sigrún Inga Garðarsdóttir, and Paul Ledger provided invaluable assistance during fieldwork. V.F. would like to dedicate this paper to Tom and Sía, who met during this fieldwork and are getting married this year. Many people from Fornleifastofnun Íslands – Garðar Guðmundsson, Ólöf Þorsteinsdóttir, Þóra Pétursdóttir, Adolf Friðriksson and Uggi Ævarsson – as well as Unnstein Ingason, Ágústa Edwald, and Mark Young, helped with fieldwork logistics. Special thanks are due to all the Icelandic farmers and their families who kindly allowed us to collect insects on their farms and provided help when needed: Hermann Aðalsteinsson, Hermína Fjóla Ingólfsdóttir, Guðmundur Skúlason, Sigrún Á. Franzdóttir, Dúna Magnúsdóttir, Sverrir Steinbergsson, Valgeir Þorvaldsson, Reynir Sveinsson, Jónas Þór Ingólfsson, and Ívar Ólafsson. Eva Panagiotakopulu, Jan Klimaszewski, Ales Smetana, Georges Pelletier, Gabor Pozsgai, and Jenni Stockham helped with some of the beetle identifications. A.J.D. acknowledges the support of National Science Foundation through ARC 1202692. Consultation of the BugsCEP database (Buckland & Buckland, 2006) aided the redaction of this paper. The authors would like to thank David Smith and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that helped improve the quality of this paper.


  • archaeoentomology
  • buildings' interiors
  • land management practices
  • stable manure
  • stored hay
  • synanthropic beetles


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