, Volume 171, Issue 4, pp 761–772 | Cite as

The role of carrion in maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes in terrestrial ecosystems

  • Philip S. BartonEmail author
  • Saul A. Cunningham
  • David B. Lindenmayer
  • Adrian D. Manning
Concepts, Reviews and Syntheses


Carrion provides a resource for a subset of animal species that deliver a critical ecosystem service by consuming dead animal matter and recycling its nutrients. A growing number of studies have also shown various effects of carrion on different plant and microbial communities. However, there has been no review of these studies to bring this information together and identify priority areas for future research. We review carrion ecology studies from the last two decades and summarise the range of spatial and temporal effects of carrion on soil nutrients, microbes, plants, arthropods, and vertebrates. We identify key knowledge gaps in carrion ecology, and discuss how closing these gaps can be achieved by focusing future research on the (1) different kinds of carrion resources, (2) interactions between different components of the carrion community, (3) the ways that ecosystem context can moderate carrion effects, and (4) considerations for carrion management. To guide this research, we outline a framework that builds on the ‘ephemeral resource patch’ concept, and helps to structure research questions that link localised effects of carrion with their consequences at landscape scales. This will enable improved characterisation of carrion as a unique resource pool, provide answers for land managers in a position to influence carrion availability, and establish the ways that carrion affects the dynamics of species diversity and ecological processes within landscapes.


Animal Carcass Cadaver Detritus Nutrient cycling Spatial Temporal 



We thank Heloise Gibb, Rieks van Klinken, Robert Parmenter, and two anonymous reviewers for providing constructive and helpful comments on the manuscript. A.D.M. was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT100100358) and the Mulligans Flat–Goorooyaroo Woodland Experiment. The authors declare no conflict of interest in this paper.

Supplementary material

442_2012_2460_MOESM1_ESM.docx (90 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 90 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip S. Barton
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Saul A. Cunningham
    • 3
  • David B. Lindenmayer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Adrian D. Manning
    • 1
  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, and National Environmental Research ProgramThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesCanberraAustralia

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