Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Frontiers in Microbiology



First Page


Last Page


DOI of Original Publication



Originally published at

Date of Submission

August 2019


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. This study investigated 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. We observed 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, whereas 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 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.


Copyright © 2018 Singh, Minick, Strickland, Wickings, Crippen, Tarone, Benbow, Sufrin, Tomberlin and Pechal. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Is Part Of

VCU Forensic Science Publications

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