Community Ecology

When corpses are in advanced decomposition, it is not always possible to use development to accurately estimate PMImin. Enclosed pupae and puparia can give inaccurate PMImn estimates, as they remain unchanged for long periods. In such cases the community of animals present on a corpse can be used to estimate PMImn (Smith 1986; Schoenley et al. 1996, 2005, 2007). These communities are usually dominated by Coleoptera (Braack 1986; Smith 1986; Catts 1992; Bourel et al. 1999; Shea 2005) and understanding their biology is vital to making accurate PMImn estimates.

Certain species are known to feed on dried animal material such as Trox spp., but the adults of these species have been observed on and around corpses at very early stages of decomposition. It is therefore crucial that collections from corpses in advanced stages of decomposition be undertaken by trained professionals who are aware of where to look for entomological evidence. Ecological successions are qualitatively predictable, but quantitatively variable by their nature, and thus an adequate error margin should always be considered in PMImn estimates made with this technique. Good progress has been made in validating this approach (Schoenley et al. 1996, 2005, 2007), but there is still a relative paucity of data on the 'windows of activity' of beetles on carrion and corpses (but see e.g. Bourel et al. 1999; Tabor et al. 2004; Watson and Carlton 2005a; Matuszewski et al. 2008). A way of addressing this problem is outlined in Section 4.3.2.

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