Seasonal Necrophagous Insect Community Assembly During Vertebrate Carrion Decomposition
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Necrophagous invertebrates have been documented to be a predominant driver of vertebrate carrion decomposition; however, very little is understood about the assembly of these communities both within and among seasons. The objective of this study was to evaluate the seasonal differences in insect taxa composition, richness, and diversity on carrion over decomposition with the intention that such data will be useful for refining error estimates in forensic entomology. Sus scrofa (L.) carcasses (n = 3-6, depending on season) were placed in a forested habitat near Xenia, OH, during spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Taxon richness varied substantially among seasons but was generally lower (1-2 taxa) during early decomposition and increased (3-8 taxa) through intermediate stages of decomposition. Autumn and winter showed the highest richness during late decomposition. Overall, taxon richness was higher during active decay for all seasons. While invertebrate community composition was generally consistent among seasons, the relative abundance of five taxa significantly differed across seasons, demonstrating different source communities for colonization depending on the time of year. There were significantly distinct necrophagous insect communities for each stage of decomposition, and between summer and autumn and summer and winter, but the communities were similar between autumn and winter. Calliphoridae represented significant indicator taxa for summer and autumn but replaced by Coleoptera during winter. Here we demonstrated substantial variability in necrophagous communities and assembly on carrion over decomposition and among seasons. Recognizing this variation has important consequences for forensic entomology and future efforts to provide error rates for estimates of the postmortem interval using arthropod succession data as evidence during criminal investigations.
author list (cited authors)
Benbow, M. E., Lewis, A. J., Tomberlin, J. K., & Pechal, J. L.