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The role of ants in vertebrate carrion decomposition
- Eubanks, Micky D., Lin, Constance, Tarone, Aaron M.
- Food webs 2019 v.18 pp. e00109
- Formicidae, dead animals, environmental factors, food webs, forensic sciences, invertebrates, literature, microhabitats, necrophagy, nests, vertebrates
- We review the relevant literature on ant-carrion interactions, highlight what is known about ants in decomposition ecology, and present a framework for future studies that aim to quantify the direct and indirect effects of ants on decomposition. One hundred and fifty-four species of ants were documented on carrion. Ants were associated with carrion in a wide range of habitats on almost every continent. Ants directly affected decomposition by feeding on carcasses (necrophagy) and by lacerating carcasses. Ants indirectly affected decomposition by predating carrion-feeding invertebrates and by altering the microhabitat of carrion via nest and mound construction. Ants may profoundly impact forensic science primarily by altering the colonization or utilization of carrion by other carrion feeders. Despite the near ubiquity of ants on carrion, their role in decomposition ecology is vastly understudied. Future studies need to experimentally assess the direct and indirect effects of ants on decomposition and comparative studies of different ant species in varying environmental conditions would be particularly fruitful.