Ecological Succession of Necrophilous Insects: A Common Garden Experiment with Pigs at Various Stages of Decomposition

Monday, March 14, 2016: 2:12 PM
Governor's Room I (Sheraton Raleigh Hotel)
Angela (Bucci) Cruise , Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Wes Watson , Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Coby Schal , Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Ecological succession of necrophilous insects is usually investigated at the same site over time, making it difficult to separate orientation to specific stages of decay from local changes in the insect community. We designed an experiment to assess whether necrophilous insects would sort themselves in a common garden design according to the pig’s stage of decay or whether they would treat each pig as a new resource and begin the process of ecological succession anew. Over a four day period, a series of fetal pigs (Sus scrofa) were sequentially added to an open field at North Carolina State University’s Lake Wheeler Fields in Raleigh. This sequential addition allowed for a broad representation of the various stages of decomposition all within the same general area. Ecological succession of insects was monitored daily with a novel sticky trap procedure and hand collections. On the fifth day, all pigs at different stages of decomposition were relocated to a new field at the same Lake Wheeler facility. Our results provide insight into the factors driving the predictable succession of necrophilous insects and serve as a model for future applied forensic entomology studies into the movement of a body and its effect on post mortem interval.