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The Influence of Insects on Decomposition Rate in Buried and Surface Remains

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This article reports results of a comparative study of decomposition rates of wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) which were either (i) buried after exposure to insect activity, (ii) buried without exposure, (iii) kept above ground behind an insect screen, or (iv) continuously exposed above ground in a field experiment. Results showed that dipteran oviposition occurred consistently in groups i and iv only. Decomposition rates (measured by Total Body Score every c. 50 accumulated degree days [ADD]) of rabbits kept behind the screen and those buried without exposure showed no difference (p = 0.450). This was significantly slower than those buried after exposure (p = 0.0016) which was in turn significantly slower than those continuously exposed (p << 0.001). Temperatures collected from animals showed the presence of feeding larvae increased intra-abdominal temperatures to >5°C above ambient. The findings support the assertion that insect presence is the primary agent affecting decomposition rate via tissue consumption and also the heat they generate.

Keywords: burial; decomposition; degree-days; forensic science; insects; taphonomy; terrestrial

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, UK.

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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