Functional and Structural Succession of Soil Microbial Communities below Decomposing Human Cadavers

PloS One
Kelly L CobaughJennifer M DeBruyn


The ecological succession of microbes during cadaver decomposition has garnered interest in both basic and applied research contexts (e.g. community assembly and dynamics; forensic indicator of time since death). Yet current understanding of microbial ecology during decomposition is almost entirely based on plant litter. We know very little about microbes recycling carcass-derived organic matter despite the unique decomposition processes. Our objective was to quantify the taxonomic and functional succession of microbial populations in soils below decomposing cadavers, testing the hypotheses that a) periods of increased activity during decomposition are associated with particular taxa; and b) human-associated taxa are introduced to soils, but do not persist outside their host. We collected soils from beneath four cadavers throughout decomposition, and analyzed soil chemistry, microbial activity and bacterial community structure. As expected, decomposition resulted in pulses of soil C and nutrients (particularly ammonia) and stimulated microbial activity. There was no change in total bacterial abundances, however we observed distinct changes in both function and community composition. During active decay (7 - 12 days postmortem),...Continue Reading


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Methods Mentioned

amplicons sequencing

Related Concepts

Bacteria, Anaerobic
Cessation of Life

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