Insect abundance patterns on vertebrate remains reveal carrion resource quality variation

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Resource quality is a key driver of species abundance and community structure. Carrion is unique among resources due to its high nutritional quality, rapidly changing nature, and the diverse community of organisms it supports. Yet the role resource quality plays in driving variation in abundance patterns of carrion-associated species remains poorly studied. Here we investigate how species abundances change with a measure of resource change, and interpret these findings to determine how species differ in their association with carrion that changes in quality over time. We conducted field succession experiments using pigs and humans over two winters and one summer. We quantified the effect of total body score, an objective measure of resource change, on adult insect abundance using generalised additive models. For each species, phases of increasing abundance likely indicated attraction to a high-quality resource, and length of abundance maxima indicated optimal oviposition and feeding time. Some species such as the beetle Necrobia rufipes had a rapid spike in abundance, suggesting a narrow window of opportunity for carrion resource exploitation, while species like the wasp Nasonia vitripennis had a gradual change in abundance, indicating a wide window of resource exploitation. Different abundance patterns were also observed between species occurring on pigs and humans, suggesting cadaver type is an important aspect of resource quality. Our findings show that species abundances, unlike species occurrences, can reveal additional detail about species exploitation of carrion and provide information about how resource quality may drive competition and variation in insect community succession.

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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