The forensic characterisation of the soil microbial community in response to cadaver decomposition

Kerith-Rae Dias

    Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

    240 Downloads (Pure)


    [Truncated abstract] The cadaver undergoes a complex and dynamic breakdown process after death, known as decomposition. Taphonomy is the study of these processes; their mechanisms, agents and interactions with the environment. As decomposition progresses, nutrient-rich products are released from the cadaver into the surrounding area that may include soil. Soil is a complex medium, within which, its diverse community of microbiota is significantly influenced by edaphic and environmental factors. The soil microbial community is known to be affected by changes to its immediate environment. The concept of resource-driven succession, as applied in entomology using the succession of colonising insects, could theoretically also be applied to the microbes involved in decomposition. The advent of molecular technology has revolutionized the field of microbial ecology by providing culture-independent methods of examining the diversity of a soil microbial community in any ecosystem. The primary aim of this research was to investigate if the soil microbial community changed in response to the presence of a decomposing cadaver. The objective was to determine that if these changes did occur, could they be detected by the selected methodologies. Phospholipid fatty acid analysis and fungal terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism community profiling were used to provide a qualitative and quantitative analysis of these transformations in soil microbial populations. Soils were analysed from two previous experiments. A controlled laboratory experiment was conducted, where replicate juvenile rat cadavers were interred for incubation, in microcosms containing two types of tropical savanna soils from Queensland, Australia. The cadavers were interred as complete cadavers, incised and sown-up cadavers or eviscerated cadavers and compared with control soils to determine how these treatments would alter the soil microbial communities...
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


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