Factors influencing the acquisition of rodent carrion by vertebrate scavengers and decomposers

Author: DeVault, T.L.; Brisbin, J., I Lehr; Rhodes, J., Olin E

Description: Vertebrate scavengers and decomposers compete for animal carcasses in all temperate and tropical ecosystems. We examined the influence of carcass size, forest type, and air temperature on the fate of rodent carcasses at the Savannah River Site, South Carolina, USA. Three hundred rodent carcasses were placed at random locations in forested habitats and scavengers were identified using remote photography. Seventeen species of vertebrates removed 104 of 300 (35%) rodent carcasses over a year. Raccoons (Procyon lotor (Linnaeus, 1758)) and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana Kerr, 1792) scavenged most frequently. For scavenged carcasses, the mean time to carcass removal was 2.58 days after placement. Carcass acquisition by scavengers and decomposers was influenced moderately by forest type and carcass size, although ambient air temperature considerably influenced the fate of carcasses. Vertebrates removed fewer carcasses as temperatures increased: only 28 of 144 (19%) carcasses were scavenged when temperatures exceeded 17 °C. The temporal pattern of carcass removal by vertebrates, however, did not vary with temperature. Consistent rates of carcass removal by vertebrates across the year and increased activity by insects during warm weather led to elevated levels of decomposition during summer months. This study confirms the complexity and dynamic nature of competitive relationships among scavengers and decomposers.

Subject headings: Vertebrates; Scavengers; Temperate; Tropical; Ecosystems; Carcass size; Forest type; Air temperature

Publication year: 2004

Journal or book title: Canadian Journal of Zoology

Volume: 82

Issue: 3

Pages: 502-509

Find the full text: https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z04-022

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 2131