Carrion

In comparison to plant litter, carrion (i.e., remnants of dead animals) is characterized by significantly higher nitrogen contents (i.e., a narrower C:N ratio) and much less recalcitrant or deterrent compounds. Thus, unlike plant litter, animal necromass provides spatially and temporally rare patches of high quality. Large carcasses are usually skeletonized after 1-3 years, but, depending on climate, complete decomposition of small carrion may be achieved within 1-2 months. However, relatively little is known about how carrion decomposition affects ecosystem functioning, how the size of the carrion patch controls decomposition and nutrient release, or how the huge amounts of carrion derived from catastrophic die-offs influence the respective ecosystem. From what is known, it can be concluded that the contribution to nutrient cycling from the decomposition of animal remnants can be substantial and, in such cases, should be considered in the formulation of nutrient budgets, even beyond habitat boarders (e.g., in the case of terrestrial carnivores catching fish and leaving the carcass prone to decomposition in their terrestrial environment). While detritivores that feed on vegetal detritus are mostly invertebrates, necrophagous (Greek: nekroS dead) consumers of carrion are represented by a high number of both invertebrate and vertebrate species. Necrophagous invertebrates mostly belong to the insect orders Diptera and Coleoptera. Invertebrate necrophages colonize and utilize animal necromass in waves of occurrence that are typical for a given habitat and climate. By contrast, the species of the dead animal has little influence on the process of carrion decomposition since carrion is of high food quality anyway. After several stages that differ in the prevailing biochemical processes and the involved necro-phages, the last steps result in mummification and subsequent skeletonization. The sequence of waves of invertebrate necrophages may, however, at any point be interrupted by scavenging vertebrates that feed upon carrion at any stage of decomposition.

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