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Vertebrate Decomposition is Accelerated by Soil Microbes

NCJ Number
Applied and Environmental Microbiology Volume: 80 Issue: 16 Dated: August 2014 Pages: 4920-4929
Date Published
August 2014
10 pages
This article reveals the impact soil microbial communities have a on the rate of carrion decomposition, and the implications for understanding carrion ecology.

Carrion decomposition is an ecologically important natural phenomenon influenced by a complex set of factors, including temperature, moisture, and the activity of microorganisms, invertebrates, and scavengers. The role of soil microbes as decomposers in this process is essential but not well understood and represents a knowledge gap in carrion ecology. To better define the role and sources of microbes in carrion decomposition, lab-reared mice were decomposed on either soil with an intact microbial community or soil that was sterilized. The authors characterized the microbial community (16S rRNA gene for bacteria and archaea, and the 18S rRNA gene for fungi and microbial eukaryotes) for three body sites along with the underlying soil (i.e., gravesoils) at time intervals coinciding with visible changes in carrion morphology. The results indicate that mice placed on soil with intact microbial communities reach advanced stages of decomposition two to three times faster than those placed on sterile soil. Microbial communities associated with skin and gravesoils of carrion in stages of active and advanced decay were significantly different between soil types (sterile versus untreated), suggesting that substrates on which carrion decompose may partially determine the microbial decomposer community. However, the source of the decomposer community (soil- versus carcass-associated microbes) was not clear in the data set, suggesting that greater sequencing depth needs to be employed to identify the origin of the decomposer communities in carrion decomposition. Overall, data show that soil microbial communities have a significant impact on the rate at which carrion decomposes and have important implications for understanding carrion ecology.

Date Published: August 1, 2014