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The impact of the decomposition process of shallow graves on soil mite abundance

Rai, J. K., Pickles, B. J. ORCID: and Perotti, M. A. ORCID: (2022) The impact of the decomposition process of shallow graves on soil mite abundance. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 67 (2). pp. 605-618. ISSN 0022-1198

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.14906


Burial of a cadaver results in a slower decomposition rate, due to more stable below ground temperatures and restricted access to necrophagous insects. In such circumstances, analysis of the soil mesofauna, with emphasis to mites (Acari) may be more valuable in time-of-death estimations. The production of volatile organic compounds of cadaveric decay result in changes, especially in the soil pH, which in turn would affect the abundance and diversity of the associated mites. In general, the effects of decomposition and the consequent altered pH levels on the abundance of mites in shallow graves, as well as the effects of fluctuating above ground environmental parameters (temperature, relative humidity, and precipitation) remain unknown. Here we found that the decay of three pig cadavers buried in shallow graves (< 30 cm below) caused a significant increase in the soil pH throughout decomposition, from neutral to alkaline. Cadaver decay attracted an abundance of mites: with 300 mites collected from the three pig cadavers compared to 129 from control soil samples at the same depth. Mites rapidly became more abundant in cadaver-associated soils than in control soils after the fresh stage. Increasing soil pH had a positive impact in the abundance of mites in graves and there was a significant interaction between cadaver body temperature and soil pH. Aboveground fluctuations in temperature, relative humidity, and precipitation were found to have no significant direct effect on mite abundance in grave or control soils.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:98200


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