Forensic Ecology, Botany, and Palynology: Some Aspects of Their Role in Criminal Investigation

  • Patricia E. J. WiltshireEmail author

Ecology, botany, and palynology are now accepted as part of the armoury of forensic techniques. These disciplines have been tested in court and have provided evidence for contact of objects and places, location of clandestinely-disposed human remains and graves, estimating times of deposition of bodies, differentiating murder sites from deposition sites, and provenancing the origin of objects and materials. It is important that the forensic palynologist is a competent botanist and ecologist. Sadly, not all practitioners have this essential background and, therefore, produce work inadequate to withstand scrutiny in court. Palynology involves the identification of many classes of microscopic entities, the most important being pollen, plant spores, and fungal spores. The practitioner needs to be able to identify palynomorphs in damaged and decayed states and this requires experience and skill. However, identification is still the lowest level of palynological expertise, and interpretation of palynological assemblages requires knowledge of plant distribution, developmental responses, and phenology, as well as ecosystem structure and function. The forensic palynologist must also understand highly manipulated and artificial systems, and the complexities of taphonomic processes. There have been attempts to make forensic palynology ‘more scientific’ by the construction of test trials, the application of current statistical techniques, mathematical modelling, and reference to aerobiological data and pollen calendars. But these appear to be of limited use in the forensic context where outcomes are scrutinised in court. There is a high degree of heterogeneity and variability in palynological profiles, and every location is unique. It is impossible to achieve meaningful and forensically-useful databases of the palynological characteristics of places; predictive models will always be crude and unlikely to be of practical value. In spite of this, the experienced ecologist/palynologist has been able to identify places, demonstrate links between objects and places, estimate body deposition times, and differentiate pertinent from irrelevant places very successfully. Nevertheless, there has been no substitute for examination of every pertinent place, and every relevant exhibit in each criminal investigation.


Fungal Spore Crime Scene Criminal Investigation Horse Chestnut Pollen Trap 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adam DP, Ferguson CW and LaMarch VC Jr. (1967). Enclosed bark as a pollen trap. Science 157:1067–1068.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnekow L, Loader NJ, Hicks S, Froyd CA and Goslar T (2007). Strong correlation between summer temperature and pollen accumulation rates for Pinus sylvestris, Picea abies and Betula spp. in a high resolution record from northern Sweden. Journal if Quaternary Science 222:653–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beug H-J (2004). Leitfaden der Pollenbestimmung f ür Mitteleuropa und angrenzende Gebiete. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, M ünchen.Google Scholar
  4. Brown AG, Smith A and Elmhurst O (2002). The combined use of pollen and soil analyses in a search and subsequent murder investigation. Journal of Forensic Sciences 47:614–618.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bryant VM and Mildenhall DC (1998). Forensic palynology: a new way to catch crooks. In: New Developments in Palynomorph Sampling, Extraction, and Analysis (Eds. VM Bryant and JH Wrenn). American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation. Contributions Series Number 33:145–155.Google Scholar
  6. Bryant VM, Mildenhall DC and Jones JG (1990). Forensic palynology in the United States of America. Palynology 14:193–208.Google Scholar
  7. Bunting MJ, Armitage R, Binney H and Waller M (2005). Estimates of ‘relative pollen productivity’ and ‘relevant source area of pollen’ for major tree taxa in two Norfolk (UK) woodlands. The Holocene 15:459–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bunting MJ and Middleton R (2005). Modelling pollen dispersal and deposition using HUMPOL software, including simulating windroses and irregular lakes. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 134:185–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Caulton E, Lacey M, Allitt U, Crosby R, Emberlin J and Hirst J (1995). Airborne pollens and spores: a guide to trapping and counting. The British Aerobiology Federation, Worcester.Google Scholar
  10. Davies MB (1967). Late-glacial climate in northern United States: a comparison of New England and the Great Lakes Region. In: Quaternary Palaeoecology (Eds. EJ Cushing, HE Wright), pp. 11–43. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  11. Eklöf M, Broström A, Gaillard M-J and Pilesjö P (2004). OPENLAND3: a computer program to estimate plant abundance around pollen sampling sites from vegetation maps: a necessary step for calculation of pollen productivity estimates. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 132:67–77.Google Scholar
  12. Erdtman G (1921). Pollenanalytische Untersuchungen von Torfmooren und marinen Sedimenten in S üdwest-Schweden. Arkiv för Botanik 17(10):1–173.Google Scholar
  13. Erdtman G (1969). Handbook of Palynology. Munksgaard, Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  14. Frei M (1979). Plant species of pollen samples from the Shroud. Appendix to the Turin Shroud, I. Wilson. Penguin Books, London, Appendix E.Google Scholar
  15. Groeneman-van Waateringe W (1998). Bark as a natural pollen trap. Review of Palynology and Palaeoecology 103:289–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hawksworth DL (2008a). Estimation of post-mortem interval and time of deposition from fungal growth on a corpse: Sub-judice case: Hertfordshire Constabulary.Google Scholar
  17. Hawksworth DL (2008b). Examination of fungal remains: Operation Jalap: Avon and Somerset Police.Google Scholar
  18. Hicks S, Tinsley H, Huusko A, Jensen C, Hattesstrand M, Gerasimides A and Kvavadze E (2001). Some comments on spatial variation in arboreal pollen deposition: first records from the Pollen Monitoring Programme (PMP). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 117:183–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Horrocks M and Walsh AJ (1998). Forensic palynology: assessing the value of the evidence. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 103:69–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hyde HA (1969). Aeropalynology in Britain — an outline. New Phytologist 86(3):579–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jacobson GL and Bradshaw EHW (1981). The selection of sites for palaeovegetational studies. Quaternary Research 16:80–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jones GD and Bryant VM Jr. (2007). A comparison of pollen counts: light versus scanning electron microscopy. Grana 46:20–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Levetin E, Rogers CA and Hall SA (2000). Comparison of pollen sampling with a Burkard sporetrap and a Tauber trap in a warm temperate climate. Grana 39:294–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Michel FB, Cour P, Lyne Q and Marty JP (1976). Qualitative and quantitative comparison of pollen calendars for plain and mountain areas. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 6(4):383–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mildenhall DC (1982). Forensic palynology. Geological Society of New Zealand Newsletter 58:25.Google Scholar
  26. Mildenhall DC (2006). Hypericum pollen determines the presence of burglars at the scene of a crime: an example of forensic palynology. Forensic Science International 163:231–235.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mildenhall DC, Wiltshire PEJ and Bryant VM Jr (2006). Forensic palynology: why do it and how it works: Editorial. Forensic Science International 163:163–172.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Milne LA, Bryant VM Jr and Mildenhall DC (2005). Forensic palynology. In: Forensic Botany: Principles and Applications to Criminal Casework (Ed. HM Coyle). CRC, Boca Raton, FL.Google Scholar
  29. Montali E, Mercuri AM, Trevisan Grandi G and Accorsi CA (2006). Towards a “crime pollen calendar” — pollen analysis on corpses throughout one year. Forensic Science International 163:211–223.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Moore PD, Webb JA and Collinson ME (1991). Pollen Analysis (2nd Ed). Blackwell Scientific, Oxford.Google Scholar
  31. Nowicke JW and Meselson J (1984). Yellow rain — a palynological analysis. Nature 309:205–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. O'Rourke MK (1990). Comparative pollen calendars from Tucson, Arizona: Durham vs Burkard Samplers. Aerobiologia 6:136–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Prentice IC (1985). Pollen representation, source area, and basin size: toward a unified theory of pollen analysis. Quaternary Research 23:76–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Riding JB, Rawlins BG and Coley KH (2007). Changes in soil pollen assemblages on footwear worn at different sites. Palynology 31:135–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Soepboer W, Sugita S, Lotter AF, Van Leeuwen JFN and ver der Knaap WO (2007). Pollen productivity estimates for quantitative reconstruction of vegetation cover on the Swiss Plateau. The Holocene 17(1):65–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sugita S, Gaillard MJ and Broström A (1999). Landscape openness and pollen records: a simulation approach. The Holocene 9:409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Szibor R, Schubert C, Schöning R, Krause D and Wendt U (1998). Pollen analysis reveals murder season. Nature 395:449–450.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tauber H (1965). Differential pollen dispersion and the interpretation of pollen diagrams. Geological Survey Denmark, Series II 89:1–69.Google Scholar
  39. Tauber H (1967). Differential pollen dispersion and filtration. In: Quaternary Palaeoecology (Eds. EJ Cushing and HE Wright), pp. 131–141. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  40. Tinsley H (2001). Modern pollen deposition in traps on a transect cross an anthropogenic tree-line on Exmoor, south-west England: a note summarizing the first three years data. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 117: 153–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. White PC (Ed.) (2004). Crime Scene to Court: The Essentials of Forensic Science. The Royal Society of Chemistry, London.Google Scholar
  42. Wiltshire PEJ (1997). Operation Gratis. Hertfordshire Constabulary.Google Scholar
  43. Wiltshire PEJ (2001a). Operation Alfalfa. Hertfordshire Constabulary.Google Scholar
  44. Wiltshire PEJ (2001b). Palynological analysis of soils and exhibits. Operation Maple. Sussex Police.Google Scholar
  45. Wiltshire PEJ (2002a). Field evaluation of deposition site: Operation Ruby. Surrey Police.Google Scholar
  46. Wiltshire PEJ (2002b). Operation Bracken. Norfolk Constabulary.Google Scholar
  47. Wiltshire PEJ (2002c). Murder of Baby Carrie. Police Service Northern Ireland.Google Scholar
  48. Wiltshire PEJ (2003a). Report on post-mortem oesophageal sections: Operation Lara Cumbria Police.Google Scholar
  49. Wiltshire PEJ (2003b). Field evaluation of the corpse and deposition site at Noak Hill, Romford, Essex: Operation Woolhope. Metropolitan Police.Google Scholar
  50. Wiltshire PEJ (2003c). Operation Pomerol. West Midlands Police.Google Scholar
  51. Wiltshire PEJ (2003d). Murder of Karen Doubleday. Greater Manchester Police.Google Scholar
  52. Wiltshire PEJ (2004a). Microscopical analysis of material retrieved from lung tissue: The death of William Pettener. North Wales Police.Google Scholar
  53. Wiltshire PEJ (2004b). The murder of Alan McCullough. Police Services Northern Ireland.Google Scholar
  54. Wiltshire PEJ (2004c). R v J. Thomas and A. W. Tilley. South Wales Police.Google Scholar
  55. Wiltshire PEJ (2004d). R. vs Anthia Hertfordshire Constabulary and Metropolitan Police.Google Scholar
  56. Wiltshire PEJ (2005a). Palynological contribution to the finding the remains of Joanne Nelson. Humberside Police.Google Scholar
  57. Wiltshire PEJ (2005b). Preliminary evaluation of crime scene and grave deposits. Operation Relator. Hertfordshire Constabulary.Google Scholar
  58. Wiltshire PEJ (2005c). Comments on potential toxicity of a range of plants listed by suspect Brian David Lawrence. Thames Valley Police.Google Scholar
  59. Wiltshire PEJ (2006a). Consideration of some taphonomic variables of relevance to forensic palynological investigation in the UK. Forensic Science International 163:173–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wiltshire PEJ (2006b). Microscopical analysis of putative vomit, stomach contents, and commercial food items: Operation Ultra. Bedfordshire Police.Google Scholar
  61. Wiltshire PEJ (2007a). Report on environmental evidence obtained from the cadaver and the place where she was found: Operation Salute Suffolk Police.Google Scholar
  62. Wiltshire PEJ (2007b). The murder of Barrie Horrell. Gwent Police.Google Scholar
  63. Wiltshire PEJ (2008). Operation Jalap. Avon and Somerset Police.Google Scholar
  64. Wiltshire PEJ and Black S (2006). The cribriform approach to the retrieval of palynological evidence from the turbinates of murder victims. Forensic Science International 163:224–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and EnvironmentUniversity of AberdeenUK

Personalised recommendations