Main content area

Insect biodiversity meets ecosystem function: differential effects of habitat and insects on carrion decomposition

Ecological entomology 2017 v.42 no.3 pp. 364-374
Coleoptera, biodiversity, biogeochemical cycles, dead animals, ecological function, food webs, grasslands, habitats, insects, trees
1. Ecological processes are maintained in different environments by different species performing similar functional roles. Yet, little is known about the role of the environment in shaping insect biodiversity associated with a process that is ephemeral and patchy. 2. In this study, the mass loss of carrion in response to contrasting habitat types (grassland or tree) was quantified experimentally, as well as the presence, diversity and composition of insect assemblages. Differences in insect assemblages between these two habitats were also examined. 3. It was found that the presence of insects led to a doubling in mass loss, but that grassland or tree habitat type had no effect on this process. By contrast, habitat type had a significant effect on the composition of generalist ant and beetle assemblages, but not on specialist fly assemblages. Given the colonisation of insects, carrion mass loss was negatively associated with increasing evenness of fly assemblages and increasing ant abundance. Variation in fly assemblage composition was also found to correlate with variation in carrion mass loss. 4. This study highlights the major role of habitat type in shaping the composition of generalist insects at carrion, but the minor role in affecting specialist and highly vagile insects. This complements the authors' findings that insect colonisation of carrion was critical to accelerated mass loss, and that fly assemblages were responsible for variation in this process, regardless of habitat. The present study sheds new light on the contribution of insect biodiversity to decomposition in variable environments, with consequences for carrion food webs and nutrient cycling.