Contrasting insect activity and decomposition of pigs and humans in an Australian environment: A preliminary study.

Elsevier BV
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Forensic science international, 2020, 316, pp. 110515
Issue Date:
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Non-human vertebrate animals, primarily domestic pigs, have been widely used in forensic science research as analogues for humans due to ethical and logistical constraints. Yet the suitability of pigs to mimic human decomposition and entomological patterns remains largely untested, and explicit comparative research in this area is lacking. We compared the decomposition rates and insect communities found at pig and human remains during summer and winter at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER). Pigs decomposed faster than humans, with pigs entering active decay earlier in both summer and winter, and humans undergoing desiccation rather than skeletonisation. There was also a delay in the colonisation of humans by both flies and beetles. Species richness of these necrophagous taxa was between two and five times higher during the first two weeks of decomposition on pigs compared to humans during both summer and winter. Insect species composition was also significantly different between pigs and humans in each season. We interpret our findings to mean that the difference between humans and pigs, such as their mass, diet, medical history, or their microbiomes, might be causing different decomposition processes and altered timing or production of chemical cues for insect colonisation. Although preliminary, our results suggest that pigs might not be accurate substitutes for humans in particular fields of taphonomy and forensic entomology. Our findings also have broader implications for the reliability of forensic studies using pigs as models for humans, and highlight the need to recognise intrinsic differences between animal models and humans.
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