Forensically significant scavenging guilds in the southwest of Western Australia

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2010, 198 (1-3), pp. 85 - 91
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Estimation of time since death is an important factor in forensic investigations and the state of decomposition of a body is a prime basis for such estimations. The rate of decomposition is, however, affected by many environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, and solar radiation as well as by indoor or outdoor location, covering and the type of surface the body is resting upon. Scavenging has the potential for major impact upon the rate of decomposition of a body, but there is little direct research upon its effect. The information that is available relates almost exclusively to North American and European contexts. The Australian faunal assemblage is unique in that it includes no native large predators or large detrivorous avians. This research investigates the animals that scavenge carcasses in natural outdoor settings in southern Western Australia and the factors which can affect each scavenger's activity. The research was conducted at four locations around Perth, Western Australia with different environmental conditions. Pig carcasses, acting as models for the human body, were positioned in an outdoor environment with no protection from scavengers or other environmental conditions. Twenty-four hour continuous time-lapse video capture was used to observe the pattern of visits of all animals to the carcasses. The time of day, length of feeding, material fed upon, area of feeding, and any movement of the carcass were recorded for each feeding event. Some species were observed to scavenge almost continually throughout the day and night. Insectivores visited the carcasses mostly during bloat and putrefaction; omnivores fed during all stages of decomposition and scavenging by carnivores, rare at any time, was most likely to occur during the early stages of decomposition. Avian species, which were the most prolific visitors to the carcasses in all locations, like reptiles, fed only during daylight hours. Only mammals and amphibians, which were seldom seen during diurnal hours, were nocturnal feeders. The combined effects of the whole guild of scavengers significantly accelerated the later stages of decomposition, especially in the cooler months of the year when natural decomposition was slowest. © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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