Entomology, Department of


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Published in Applied Soil Ecology 40:3 (November 2008), pp. 529-535; doi: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2008.08.004 Published by Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


The repeated introduction of an organic resource to soil can result in its enhanced degradation. This phenomenon is of primary importance in agroecosystems, where the dynamics of repeated nutrient, pesticide, and herbicide amendment must be understood to achieve optimal yield. Although not yet investigated, the repeated introduction of cadaveric material is an important area of research in forensic science and cemetery planning. It is not currently understood what effects the repeated burial of cadaveric material has on cadaver decomposition or soil processes such as carbon mineralization. To address this gap in knowledge, we conducted a laboratory experiment using ovine (Ovis aries) skeletal muscle tissue (striated muscle used for locomotion) and three contrasting soils (brown earth, rendzina, podsol) from Great Britain. This experiment comprised two stages. In Stage I skeletal muscle tissue (150 g as 1.5 g cubes) was buried in sieved (4.6 mm) soil (10 kg dry weight) calibrated to 60% water holding capacity and allowed to decompose in the dark for 70 days at 22 °C. Control samples comprised soil without skeletal muscle tissue. In Stage II, soils were weighed (100 g dry weight at 60% WHC) into 1285 ml incubation microcosms. Half of the soils were designated for a second tissue amendment, which comprised the burial (2.5 cm) of 1.5 g cube of skeletal muscle tissue. The remaining half of the samples did not receive tissue. Thus, four treatments were used in each soil, reflecting all possible combinations of tissue burial (+) and control (−). Subsequent measures of tissue mass loss, carbon dioxide-carbon evolution, soil microbial biomass carbon, metabolic quotient and soil pH show that repeated burial of skeletal muscle tissue was associated with a significantly greater rate of decomposition in all soils. However, soil microbial biomass following repeated burial was either not significantly different (brown earth, podsol) or significantly less (rendzina) than new gravesoil. Based on these results, we conclude that enhanced decomposition of skeletal muscle tissue was most likely due to the proliferation of zymogenous soil microbes able to better use cadaveric material re-introduced to the soil.

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