A project undertaken at the Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University, and supervised by Thomas Newsome and Euan Ritchie
Carrion (i.e. dead or decaying animal matter) is a nutrient- and energy-rich resource that is used by a variety of organisms encompassing all biological kingdoms. It can affect the movements and spatial distribution of scavenging species and, as many scavengers are also predators, the presence of carrion may have cascading impacts on live prey. The degradation of a carcass may further influence soil properties, as well as the growth of certain plant species in the vicinity of the resource. Thus, carrion has the potential to shape many aspects of community ecology, and to play key roles in nutrient cycling and in shaping food-web dynamics through both direct and indirect pathways.
Despite the community-wide effects of this resource, carrion ecology remains understudied, and research is primarily northern-hemisphere based. This represents a major knowledge gap and issue for Australia, especially given the suite of predators (e.g. dingo, red fox, cat, quoll, eagle, goanna) that potentially use this food source. Better understanding of how these predators use the landscape and their resources will ultimately help
pecifically, our project aims to:
- Determine the extent to which different predator guilds use carrion resources within the landscape;
- Examine the interactions that occur between different predator species at carrion sites;
- Examine the factors that influence the use of carrion by different predators; and
- Assess the extent to which detritivores use carrion and whether there are any flow-on effects to soil properties (soil fertility and chemistry).
The results of this research will provide capacity for and inform broader and more complex ecological studies into the role of carrion in Australian food-webs and contribute to carrion management (i.e. disposal programs) in the conservation and agricultural sectors of Australia.