Washington D.C. , Jan 23


tumbling across an animal carcass lying in a forest might be too gruesome of a scene for many, but what seems repulsive to people, can have immensely positive implications for the surrounding natural environment.

The carcasses not only provide food for many carrion-eating animal species, but their nutrients also contribute to the growth of surrounding plants. This, in turn, attracts many herbivorous insects and their predators.

A research conducted by scientists from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the University of Groningen that got published in the PLOS ONE journal, recommended the relaxation of regulations governing the disposal of animal carcasses in 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.

For 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, but 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.

"The fact that animal carcasses are important for scavengers is hardly surprising," said 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."

The results shed new light on the role of animal carcasses in the ecosystem. "It is now largely accepted that deadwood remains in our forests - which benefits many species," said 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.

Dead animals help ecosystems to flourish: Study

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