Microbial community assembly and metabolic function during mammalian corpse decomposition

Science
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Abstract

Vertebrate corpse decomposition provides an important stage in nutrient cycling in most terrestrial habitats, yet microbially mediated processes are poorly understood. Here we combine deep microbial community characterization, community-level metabolic reconstruction, and soil biogeochemical assessment to understand the principles governing microbial community assembly during decomposition of mouse and human corpses on different soil substrates. We find a suite of bacterial and fungal groups that contribute to nitrogen cycling and a reproducible network of decomposers that emerge on predictable time scales. Our results show that this decomposer community is derived primarily from bulk soil, but key decomposers are ubiquitous in low abundance. Soil type was not a dominant factor driving community development, and the process of decomposition is sufficiently reproducible to offer new opportunities for forensic investigations.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Microbial community assembly and metabolic function during mammalian corpse decomposition
Series title Science
DOI 10.1126/science.aad2646
Volume 351
Issue 6269
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher American Association for the Advancement of Science
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 5 p.
First page 158
Last page 162
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N