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Temporal and Spatial Impact of Human Cadaver Decomposition on Soil Bacterial and Arthropod Community Structure and Function

NCJ Number
Frontiers in Microbiology Issue: 8 Dated: 2018
Date Published
9 pages

This study examined the spatial (0, 1, and 5 m) and temporal (3-732 days) dynamics of human cadaver decomposition on soil bacterial and arthropod community structure and microbial function.


As vertebrate carrion decomposes, there is a release of nutrient-rich fluids into the underlying soil, which can impact associated biological community structure and function. How these changes alter soil biogeochemical cycles is relatively unknown and may prove useful in the identification of carrion decomposition islands that have long lasting, focal ecological effects. The current study found strong evidence of a predictable response to cadaver decomposition that varies over space for soil bacterial and arthropod community structure, carbon (C) mineralization. and microbial substrate utilization patterns. In the presence of a cadaver (i.e., 0 m samples), the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes was greater, while the relative abundance of Acidobacteria, Chloroflexi, Gemmatimonadetes, and Verrucomicrobia was lower when compared to samples at 1 and 5 m. Micro-arthropods were more abundant (15 to 17-fold) in soils collected at 0 m compared to either 1 or 5 m, but overall, micro-arthropod community composition was unrelated to either bacterial community composition or function. Bacterial community structure and microbial function also exhibited temporal relationships; however, arthropod community structure did not. Cumulative precipitation was more effective in predicting temporal variations in bacterial abundance and microbial activity than accumulated degree days. In the presence of the cadaver (i.e., 0 m samples), the relative abundance of Actinobacteria increased significantly with cumulative precipitation. Furthermore, soil bacterial communities and C mineralization were sensitive to the introduction of human cadavers, since as they diverged from baseline levels and did not recover completely in approximately 2 years. These data are valuable for understanding ecosystem function surrounding carrion decomposition islands and can be applicable to environmental bio-monitoring and forensic sciences. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2018