Entomology, Department of


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Published in Applied Soil Ecology 40:1 (September 2008), pp. 129–137; doi: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2008.03.010 Published by Elsevier B.V. Used by permission. http://www.elsevier.com/locate/apsoil


The ecology of soils associated with dead mammals (i.e. cadavers) is poorly understood. Although temperature and soil type are well known to influence the decomposition of other organic resource patches, the effect of these variables on the degradation of cadavers in soil has received little experimental investigation. To address this, cadavers of juvenile rats (Rattus rattus) were buried in one of three contrasting soils (Sodosol, Rudosol, and Vertosol) from tropical savanna ecosystems in Queensland, Australia and incubated at 29 °C, 22 °C, or 15 °C in a laboratory setting. Cadavers and soils were destructively sampled at intervals of 7 days over an incubation period of 28 days. Measurements of decomposition included cadaver mass loss, carbon dioxide–carbon (CO2–C) evolution, microbial biomass carbon (MBC), protease activity, phosphodiesterase activity, and soil pH, which were all significantly positively affected by cadaver burial. A temperature effect was observed where peaks or differences in decomposition that at occurred at higher temperature would occur at later sample periods at lower temperature. Soil type also had an important effect on some measured parameters. These findings have important implications for a largely unexplored area of soil ecology and nutrient cycling, which are significant for forensic science, cemetery planning and livestock carcass disposal.

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