Carcass mass has little influence on the structure of gravesoil microbial communities

Int J Legal Med. 2016 Jan;130(1):253-63. doi: 10.1007/s00414-015-1206-2. Epub 2015 May 30.


Little is known about how variables, such as carcass mass, affect the succession pattern of microbes in soils during decomposition. To investigate the effects of carcass mass on the soil microbial community, soils associated with swine (Sus scrofa domesticus) carcasses of four different masses were sampled until the 15th day of decomposition during the month of June in a pasture near Lincoln, Nebraska. Soils underneath swine of 1, 20, 40, and 50 kg masses were investigated in triplicate, as well as control sites not associated with a carcass. Soil microbial communities were characterized by sequencing the archaeal, bacterial (16S), and eukaryotic (18S) rRNA genes in soil samples. We conclude that time of decomposition was a significant influence on the microbial community, but carcass mass was not. The gravesoil associated with 1 kg mass carcasses differs most compared to the gravesoil associated with other carcass masses. We also identify the 15 most abundant bacterial and eukaryotic taxa, and discuss changes in their abundance as carcass decomposition progressed. Finally, we show significant decreases in alpha diversity for carcasses of differing mass in pre-carcass rupture (days 0, 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 postmortem) versus post-carcass rupture (days 9 and 15 postmortem) microbial communities.

Keywords: Bacteria; Decomposition; Nematode; Pathology; Postmortem microbiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Body Weight*
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / isolation & purification
  • Models, Animal
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Swine


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S