The Role of Spatial Aggregation in Forensic Entomology
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A central concept in forensic entomology is that arthropod succession on carrion is predictable and can be used to estimate the postmortem interval (PMI) of human remains. However, most studies have reported significant variation in successional patterns, particularly among replicate carcasses, which has complicated estimates of PMIs. Several forensic entomology researchers have proposed that further integration of ecological and evolutionary theory in forensic entomology could help advance the application of succession data for producing PMI estimates. The purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the role of spatial aggregation of arthropods among carrion resources as a potentially important aspect to consider for understanding and predicting the assembly of arthropods on carrion over time. We review ecological literature related to spatial aggregation of arthropods among patchy and ephemeral resources, such as carrion, and when possible integrate these results with published forensic literature. We show that spatial aggregation of arthropods across resources is commonly reported and has been used to provide fundamental insight for understanding regional and local patterns of arthropod diversity and coexistence. Moreover, two suggestions are made for conducting future research. First, because intraspecific aggregation affects species frequency distributions across carcasses, data from replicate carcasses should not be combined, but rather statistically quantified to generate occurrence probabilities. Second, we identify a need for studies that tease apart the degree to which community assembly on carrion is spatially versus temporally structured, which will aid in developing mechanistic hypotheses on the ecological factors shaping community assembly on carcasses.
author list (cited authors)
Fiene, J. G., Sword, G. A., VanLaerhoven, S. L., & Tarone, A. M.