BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

How are animal carcasses beneficial?

Studies prove that carcasses of dead animals are important for plant growth. Researcher, Dr. Roel van Klink, conducted an experiment and concluded that carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is essential for many species. Since, carrion of large animals is an extremely nutrient rich, ephemeral resource. The Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve found that the leaving the deceased animals on the ground has had a positive effect on biodiversity. The remains attract more insects and other arthropods and increase plant growth. After five months the plants were significantly larger than usual; the biomass was five times larger and nutritional plant quality was higher than the controlled sites.

Many debates have started from this proposition to keep dead animals in nature reserves. The European legislation requires any dead animal to be removed or destroyed, unless the aim is to provide food for endangered scavengers, like vultures. However, in places like Kenya and Tanzania, the Mara River’s ecosystem relies on rotting carcasses for sustenance. The disposal of wildebeests in the river, not only feeds scavengers, but also releases nutrients (phosphorus and carbon) into the river after their body decomposes and releases algae and bacteria, which also nourishes the fish. Although many nature reserves benefit from this concept, the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve abused their power in 2017-2018. The reserve starved 3,300 deer, horses and cattle to death. These opposing views cause controversy on whether or not decaying animals are beneficial or detrimental to the economy.

Many ecosystems rely on rotting carcasses for sustenance. In the ocean, over 60 species live off of the “whale-fall” communities. This is when a large whale dies and their body sinks to the seafloor, into a new ecosystem. Scavengers (hagfish, sleeper sharks, amphipods, etc.) in the ocean tear away large pieces of soft tissue from the whale and later, “bone-eating” worms help to digest the whale carcass. These new species, developed from the “whale-fall” communities, can last decades in the deep ocean. Unfortunately, many whales suffer from commercial whaling, which also affects the food chain for animals that eat whales. This time of mass slaughter killed off as many as ninety percent of living whales during the 18th and 19th century. Therefore, some of the first extinctions in the ocean have been from whale-fall communities.

Personally, I believe that animal carcasses are beneficial to nature and should be allowed. Though, some people abuse their power to benefit their own land, by slaughtering animals. For that reason, there should be set regulations to ensure the safety of animals so people won’t just go around killing innocent animals for their own advantage.

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12 Comments

  1. mitochondriana

    What a cool article! It’s interesting how impactful phosphorus and carbon are on the soil’s ability to nurture the plant. I didn’t realize that simply phosphorus, without its usual accompanying molecules of nitrogen and potassium, is this helpful in increasing the biomass of plant-life. It also make me wonder if there is such thing as “too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all” for composting (thanking foodvacuolola for the vocab word). Since phosphorus is the main ingredient the decaying carcasses add to the soil and since plants’ essentials are phosphorus as well as nitrogen and potassium, is it possible for the concentration of phosphorus to be a hindrance if it gets too high or will the plats regulate the change somehow? How do they if they do?I’m very sure everyone had this in the back of their minds while reading this too so if you’re wondering the same thing, look no further!! I found an article all about it here https://www.phoslab.com/how-does-phosphor-help-plants-grow/ . Hope this helps!

  2. glovcose

    This article is very interesting and it really showed how beneficial carcasses are on the environment. I agree with the point that there should be regulations in order to help prevent horrible situations. Unfortunately there are people out there that do abuse their power in order to benefit themselves. In this article I found, https://aldf.org/article/laws-that-protect-animals/ it talks about laws we have that protect animals but, some people disregard the law for their own benefit. There aren’t that many laws that help to protect animals which is why it is so important to advocate for better animal protections laws.

  3. actrevationenergy

    I know that dead organisms are necessary for the ecosystem, but it is amazing to see how useful they really are. The most interesting one is the whale carcass. It is amazing to see how it creates an environment of its own, where many animals converge to eat it. I wonder if even the bones are used? Here is an article about how many animals are dependent on dead whales for food. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/watch-scientists-find-complete-baleen-whale-skeleton-accident-bottom-ocean-180973360/

  4. Ethanol

    Such an awesome article! We often think of the negative impacts humans have on our environment but this is an overlooked aspect of this fact. It is interesting to see how beneficial the decomposition of animal carcasses can be. It just goes to show the negative consequences of human intervention on something as fragile as complex ecosystems. On both land and at sea all parts of the carcasses are utilized and nutrients are passed back into the circle of life. This article gives more information on the specifics of carcass disposal in the Congo River basin: https://www.jwildlifedis.org/doi/full/10.7589/2014-05-140

  5. tytybox

    It’s really interesting to think about the circle of life and how animals that are dead can still contribute to the ecosystem. I question if something like this could not only benefit the ecosystem but also climate change. This article talks about livestock’s effect on carbon emissions and climate change https://climatenexus.org/climate-issues/food/animal-agricultures-impact-on-climate-change/

  6. melaria

    What a great article TRNAyon! I agree with you, and ionizingjadeation, animal carcasses should be left in nature reserves. It is clear through the wildebeest example that animal carcasses are beneficial to the ecosystem in many different ways. This article made me think of the elephant killings in Botswana. Botswana was known as one of the safer homes for elephants, holding almost 1/3 of the global elephant population. Unfortunately over the past couple of months, the amount of elephant carcasses in Botswana has risen significantly. Although poaching is illegal, it still remains a restraint to the average elephant’s lifespan. This relates to what TRNAyon wrote about as poachers are technically creating more carcasses which can be seen as a good thing and used to justify this horrendous action. I believe that animal carcasses should remain where they are found, maintaining the ecosystem naturally as best as possible.
    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/06/elephants-poached-in-botswana/#close

  7. tayega

    This is a very interesting as taking animal carcass removal taken into the hands of any normal person can be dangerous. Many people wouldn’t even bother to think of things like this and it’s very important to educate. I found important steps to the process here (http://www.aaanimalcontrol.com/Professional-Trapper/howtogetridofdeadanimals.htm). There is many possible diseases that we must avoid that animals can handle. With these important steps we can proceed to allow the proper ecosystem in life occur without. That is why it is imperative that we must contact experts when in situations such as this. Taking things into our own hands is how epidemics happen.

  8. andygen

    This is very interesting! I did not realize the importance carcasses have on the environment. I see why there is controversy because while the carcasses are beneficial to the environment in terms of sustenance, in populated areas the carcasses could harbor disease and carcasses are not exactly pleasing to the eye. In New York, hunters are banned from bringing carcasses of large game that they hunt in other states because of the fear of disease (Chronic Wasting Disease). The DEC only allows small parts to be imported into New York because of the issue with Chronic Wasting Disease. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/8325.html

  9. abbyogenesis

    I always knew dead animals were beneficial to the environment but I never knew they were essential to certain ecosystems. As cellillymembrane explained the reasoning for the European law that requires the removal of caresses because of public sensitives, I think lawmakers should take into account the importance every animal has in the environment even after death. As explained in the Recycling the Dead article, caresses are important to the environment because they help to enrich the soil as well as provide food for certain animals within the ecosystem. Thus, if we truly care about improving our environment we must learn to tolerate some of our sensitivities. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/recycling-dead

  10. ionizingjadeation

    I completely agree with you, trnayon. Animal carcasses should be allowed to be left rather than disposed of because it is only beneficial to the environment. Like you said, there definitely needs to be regulations set in place in order to prevent horrible situations like the one that happened in the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve. However, in an article from the American Veterinary Medical Associaton, it says that once an animal is deceased it needs to be disposed of properly to prevent potential risks to the public, other animals, and the environment (if the animal was contagious or contaminated). I think this is another key factor to take into consideration and shows how the choice of either leaving an animal carcass be or disposing of one really depends on the specific situation.

    https://www.avma.org/disposal-wild-animal-carcasses

  11. foodvacuolola

    Great blog, it is crazy to think and put into perspective how the cycle of life really works! So interesting that in order for
    The article I found elaborating on this topic can define it as “composting.” Since composting is giving back to the earth (https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/environment-natural-resources/animal-carcass-disposal-options-rendering-incineration-burial-composting) that is exactly what the animal’s carcasses does and how it gets recycled back into its ecosystem. The dead animal is broken down into basic elements by microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi. If composting is done properly then it has the ability to destroy disease-causing viruses and bacteria. The argument whether they should or shouldn’t be allowed is not valid, because I agree with Trnayon of course with the right reasons and not to abuse power.

  12. cellillymembrane

    I never realized how important animal carcasses are to various ecosystems. When I was reading your article, I noticed that you said there was a European law that carcasses must be removed unless they are being used as food for scavengers and I wondered why they would need to be removed in the first place if they help surrounding ecosystems so much. I found an article that explains how to dispose of an animal carcass safely. It also says that the carcasses need to be removed due to “public sensitivities, the environment, and public health”. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/reports/Wildlife%20Damage%20Management%20Technical%20Series/Carcass-Disposal-WDM-Technical-Series.pdf

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