U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019


P. P. Olea et al. (eds.), Carrion Ecology and Management, Wildlife Research Monographs 2, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-16501-7_2



Availability of carrion to scavengers is a central issue in carrion ecology and management, and is crucial for understanding the evolution of scavenging behaviour. Compared to live animals, their carcasses are relatively unpredictable in space and time in natural conditions, with a few exceptions (see below, especially Sect. “Carrion Exchange at the Terrestrial-Aquatic Interface”). Carrion is also an ephemeral food resource due to the action of a plethora of consumers, from microorganisms to large vertebrates, as well as to desiccation (i.e., loss of water content; DeVault et al. 2003; Beasley et al. 2012; Barton et al. 2013; Moleón et al. 2014). With a focus on vertebrate carcasses, here we give an overview of (a) the causes that produce carrion, (b) the rate of carrion production, (c) the factors affecting carrion quality, and (d) the distribution of carrion in space and time, both in terrestrial and aquatic environments (including their interface). In this chapter, we will focus on naturally produced carrion, whereas non-natural causes of animal mortality are described in chapter “Human-Mediated Carrion: Effects on Ecological Processes”. However, throughout this chapter we also refer to extensive livestock carrion, because in the absence of strong restrictions such as those imposed in the European Community after the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis (Donázar et al. 2009; Margalida et al. 2010), the spatiotemporal availability of carrion of extensive livestock and wild ungulates is similar.