Decomposition rate of carrion is dependent on composition not abundance of the assemblages of insect scavengers
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- Farwig, N., Brandl, R., Siemann, S. et al. Oecologia (2014) 175: 1291. doi:10.1007/s00442-014-2974-y
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Environmental factors and biodiversity affect ecosystem processes. As environmental change modifies also biodiversity it is unclear whether direct effects of environmental factors on ecosystem processes are more important than indirect effects mediated by changes in biodiversity. High-quality resources like carrion occur as heterogeneous pulses of energy and nutrients. Consequently, the distribution of scavenging insects is related to resource availability. Therefore, carrion decomposition represents a suitable process from which to unravel direct effects of environmental change from indirect biodiversity-related effects on ecosystem processes. During three field seasons in 2010 we exposed traps baited with small-mammal carrion at 21 sites along a temperature gradient to explore the insect carrion fauna and decomposition rate in the Bohemian Forest, Germany. The abundance component of beetle and fly assemblages decreased with decreasing temperature. Independently, the composition component of both taxa changed with temperature and season. The change in the composition component of beetles depicted a loss of larger species at higher temperatures. Decomposition rate did not change directly along the temperature gradient but was directly influenced by season. The composition component of beetles, and to a small extent of flies, but not their abundance component, directly affected carrion decomposition. Consequently, lower decomposition rates at lower temperatures can be explained by the absence of larger beetle species. Thus, we predict that future environmental change will modify carrion fauna composition and thereby indirectly decomposition rate. Moreover, reorganizations of the insect carrion composition will directly translate into modified decomposition rates, with potential consequences for nutrient availability and carbon storage.