Even after death, animals are important in ecosystems

January 22, 2020

Animal carcasses play an important role in biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems, also over prolonged periods. Scientists from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the University of Groningen have published these findings in the journal PLOS ONE. The carcasses not only provide food for many carrion-eating animal species, their nutrients also contribute to the significantly increased growth of surrounding plants. This in turn attracts many herbivorous insects and their predators. The researchers recommend relaxing regulations governing the disposal of animal carcasses when applied to nature conservation areas.

In the Dutch nature reserve Oostvaardersplassen, one of the largest wetland areas in Central Europe, the scientists investigated how red deer carcasses impact local biodiversity. To this purpose, they first recorded the presence of insect species on surfaces both with and without carcasses, and then plant growth in the immediate vicinity of a carcass. They found that the carcasses not only directly benefit many carrion-eating insects like flies or carrion beetles, they also have a positive long-term effect on plant growth.

Plants such as the Welted Thistle (Carduus crispus) grew more than five times larger near the carcasses than in other locations, and this in turn resulted in a four-fold increase in the number of herbivorous insects and their predators. "That animal carcasses are important for scavengers is hardly surprising," says the head of the study, Dr Roel van Klink. "However, I hadn't expected they would have such a significant impact on the entire local food chain, and continue to do so even after five months, especially on such nutrient-rich soils as in Oostvaardersplassen." Van Klink carried out the study at the University of Groningen with colleagues. Currently, he is a postdoctoral fellow at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

The results shed new light on the role of animal carcasses in the ecosystem. "It is now largely accepted that dead wood remains in our forests - which benefits many species," says Prof Chris Smit from the University of Groningen. "However, the sight of dead animals in nature is often still a social taboo, and this is a shame given their important value for ecosystems and biodiversity". Apart from this, EU laws make it difficult to leave the carcasses of large animals in nature reserves. The authors recommend relaxing these regulations for nature reserves.
-end-


German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

Related Biodiversity Articles from Brightsurf:

Biodiversity hypothesis called into question
How can we explain the fact that no single species predominates?

Using the past to maintain future biodiversity
New research shows that safeguarding species and ecosystems and the benefits they provide for society against future climatic change requires effective solutions which can only be formulated from reliable forecasts.

Changes in farming urgent to rescue biodiversity
Humans depend on farming for their survival but this activity takes up more than one-third of the world's landmass and endangers 62% of all threatened species.

Predicting the biodiversity of rivers
Biodiversity and thus the state of river ecosystems can now be predicted by combining environmental DNA with hydrological methods, researchers from the University of Zurich and Eawag have found.

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.

Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.

Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.

Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.

Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.

Read More: Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.