This study investigates the microbial ecology of vertebrate decomposition, describing three major microbial microhabitats in terms of successional trajectories and identifying gaps that remain to be addressed.
In this review, the authors examine recent work pertaining to microbial community dynamics and succession during vertebrate (human and other mammals) decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems, through the lens of a microbial succession ecological framework. The researchers describe three major microbial microhabitats (internal, external, and soil) in terms of their unique successional trajectories and identify three major knowledge gaps that remain to be addressed. Vertebrate decomposition results in an ephemeral disturbance of the surrounding environment. Microbial decomposers are recognized as key players in the breakdown of complex organic compounds, controlling carbon and nutrient fate in the ecosystem and potentially serving as indicators of time since death for forensic applications. As a result, there has been increasing attention on documenting the microbial communities associated with vertebrate decomposition, or the ‘necrobiome’. These necrobiome studies differ in the vertebrate species, microhabitats (e.g. skin vs. soil), and geographic locations studied, but many are narrowly focused on the forensic application of microbial data, missing the larger opportunity to understand the ecology of these communities. To further understanding of microbial dynamics during vertebrate decomposition and identify knowledge gaps, there is a need to assess the current works from an ecological systems perspective. (Published Abstract Provided)
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