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The Potential to Determine a Postmortem Submersion Interval Based on Algal/Diatom Diversity on Decomposing Mammalian Carcasses in Brackish Ponds in Delaware

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Recently botanical evidence has been studied to determine if it is useful in forensic investigations. This study was performed to examine stillborn piglet decomposition in a brackish water environment and to semi-quantitatively document stages of decomposition, degree day accumulation per stage as well as the algal/diatom diversity useful in determining a postmortem submersion interval (PMSI). Piglets and ceramic tiles were submerged in brackish ponds and sampled on a regular basis to document algal diversity and succession between substrates and stages of decomposition. Significantly greater weight was lost from piglet carcasses during the early floating and advanced floating decay stages. Seasonal effects were observed in degree-day accumulations. Diatom diversity was significantly greater on piglet carcasses compared to tile substrates. Algal diversity decreased over time on the piglet carcasses as well as the stage of decomposition. A significant relationship and strong correlation between algal diversity found on the piglet substrate with time was observed. Our results indicate that more research is needed to examine the potential to use diatoms in not only determining manner of death but also the duration of time (PMSI) a victim may have been immersed in an aquatic environment.
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Keywords: algae; brackish water environment; diatoms; forensic science; postmortem submersion interval

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biology, Millersville University, Millersville, PA 17551.

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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