Carrion is an important part of ecosystems, and provides a resource for many species involved in the decomposition process and the recycling of nutrients.
Kangaroos are an important source of carrion in Box-Gum grassy woodlands around the ACT, and in ecosystems elsewhere in Australia. Wide fluctuations in populations of kangaroos can lead to changes in carrion input.
- Little is known about the ecological role of carrion in ecosystems, and how it affects biodiversity and nutrient cycling dynamics.
Research Project Details
The decomposition of kangaroo carcasses was monitored over a 12-month period in Mulligans Flat Sanctuary. Each carcass was paired with a nearby control site for comparison.
Several variables were regularly measured at carcass and control sites over the 12 months, including:
- Soil chemistry, including organic and inorganic fractions
- Ground-layer plant floristics
- Plant leaf nitrogen
- Beetle, ant and mite diversity
The data collected can be analysed to see what things happen at carcasses compared with control sites, and how this changes over time.
The results have shown that carrion is a ‘hotspot’ for invertebrate diversity and abundance, as well as for nutrient cycling. For example:
- Over 100 species of beetle, 30 species of ant, and 25 mite species have been found at kangaroo carcasses.
- Very large nitrogen pulses have been detected in the soil and nearby plant leaves
Further research is being conducted on changes in soil chemistry, and associations between beetles and phoretic mites at carcasses.
- Macdonald, B.C.T., Farrell, M., Tuomi, S., Barton, P.S., Cunningham, S.A., Manning, A.D. (2014) Carrion decomposition causes large and lasting effects on soil amino acid and peptide flux. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 69, pp. 132-140. DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.10.042 Abstract
- Barton P. S., Weaver H. J. and Manning A. D. (2013) Contrasting diversity dynamics of phoretic mites and beetles associated with vertebrate carrion. Experimental and Applied Acarology 1-13.
- Barton P. S., Cunningham S. A., Lindenmayer D. B. and Manning A. D. (2013) The role of carrion in maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes in terrestrial ecosystems. Oecologia 171, 761-772.
- Barton, P.S., Cunningham, S.A., Macdonald, B.C.T., McIntyre, S., Lindenmayer, D.B., and Manning, A.D. (2013). Species traits predict biodiversity dynamics at ephemeral resource patches created by carrion. PLOS ONE. 8(1) Article: e53961
- Barton P. S., Cunningham, S. A., Lindenmayer, D. B., and Manning, A. D. (2012). The role of carrion in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem processes in terrestrial ecosystems. Oecologia. 171(4) pp 761-72