Animal carcasses very important for ecosystems according to a new study

The remains and carcasses of dead animals play an important role in many ecosystems and do so for long periods of time. This is confirmed by a new study conducted by researchers at the German Centre for Integrated Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the University of Groningen who, in a study published in PLOS ONE, explain how carcasses are useful not only as a source of food for other animals, as one might think, but also because they serve as important nutrients for plants, which in turn are very important for virtually every ecosystem.

Researchers have analyzed these characteristics in a nature reserve in the Netherlands, Oostvaardersplassen, which is considered one of the largest wetlands in Europe. In particular, they analyzed how the carcasses of dead deer can have an important impact on the local ecosystem, particularly on biodiversity. They found that dead animal carcasses mainly benefit insects such as flies or other land insects known to be carrion hungry. However, they also found that the remains of dead animals also promote plant growth in the long term because they leave important nutrients in the soil.

For example, they noted that the wild thistle (Carduus crispus, also known as frizzy thistle), a herbaceous plant of the Asteraceae family, grows five times closer to carcasses than in other places. This, in turn, leads to an increase in biodiversity in a chain process, e.g. herbivorous insects feeding on plants, their predators and predators of predators, etc.

The fact is that the researchers, as Roel van Klink, one of the scientists involved in the study, explains, did not expect such significant effects of carcasses on the entire food chain, effects that continue even months after death. These results shed new light on the importance, which was already known, of the remains of dead animals, often not considered to be as important as dead vegetation in terms of resources for ecosystems.

It is a sort of “social taboo,” as Chris Smit of the University of Groningen explains, according to whom for someone, perhaps even unconsciously, it is almost a pity to underline the value of a dead animal for an ecosystem.

In any case, this study makes us reflect on the increasingly pressing laws, imposed also in the European Union, which make it increasingly difficult to leave the carcass of a large dead animal in the place where it died within nature reserves. These regulations should perhaps not always be applied, given the results of this study.