Few of us would disagree with the opinion that humans are living longer lives than at any point in our history. Medical innovations, most recently in areas like nanotechnology, are assisting in longevity by improving a number of medical procedures.
The flip side of this is the unpleasant subject of decomposition, which is one of those scientific topics which we all consider in passing: it involves how the breakdown of an organism after its death impacts the delicate ecosystem around it.
A team of biologists set out to uncover just how crucial the process is for maintaining balance in virtually every biological sphere. Their work looked at groups of animals which make up what they term as decomposer communities.
Although other studies have focused on this area, the team's study covered more thoroughly the full breadth of animals that make up the necrobiome community.
Creating a context for the necrobiome community
Eric Benbow, study leader and MSU forensic entomologist and microbial ecologist, explained how their work is important in providing a complete picture that connects the process of decomposition to the ecosystem, and more importantly, the immediate and significant impact that lack of decomposer communities could have at any place in the world.
“Decomposer communities are critical, yet there’s no standard framework to conceptualize their complex and dynamic interactions across both plant and animal necromass, which limits our comprehensive understanding of decomposition,” he said. “Our findings also have implications for defining and testing paradigms related to nutrient recycling, gene flow, population dynamics and other ecosystem processes at the frontier of ecological research.”
Beyond creating a framework, the work of the researchers also aimed to explore the potential of developing products from the decomposer communities. In other words, understanding clearly the steps involved in this intricate cycle of food and energy transfer would in some ways contribute to the development of new and potentially impactful food resource solutions.
“Our research and this study establish a common language and conceptual tools that can lead to new product discovery,” Benbow said, adding, “We’re eliminating organic matter and turning it into a value-added product that can add to the world-food cycle. Understanding the species and the mechanisms, which are essentially recycled, can contribute to establishing food security.”
This would represent a win-win for science and industry in the long term, as some corporations would change their perceptions about the value of biowaste and its disposal.
The work was supported by researchers from Australian National University, USDA, University of Georgia, University of Idaho, Texas A&M University and Mississippi State University.
Details about the study appear in a paper, titled "Necrobiome framework for bridging decomposition ecology of autographically and heterotrophically derived matter", which was published on September 11th in the Ecological Monographs.