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And What About the Rest of the Big, Wide World? Corpse Decomposition and the Environment

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So far this book has been very much human-focussed – all we’ve been bothered about is what happens to our dead body. Let’s now go beyond this and start looking at the wider environment. We’ve seen in Chapters 5 and 6 that a variety of microbes and insects make full use of the nutrients present in a human corpse. Now that you’re an ecologist (as well as a biochemist, microbiologist and entomologist) you’re going to want to know what effect all this has on the environment in which the corpse has been left. That corpse decay does have a significant environmental impact can best be appreciated if we get away from human corpses for a moment. It’s been estimated that natural death results in 5,000 kilograms of mammalian tissue being deposited on each square kilometre of soil per year – that represents an awful lot of nutrients for hungry microbes and insects. Now, back to humans. Each year approximately 58 million people die and the majority of these are buried, or their cremated remains are added to the environment – that’s certainly going to have an impact. The approximate quantities of the major nutrients present in this number of dead humans is shown in Figure 7.1

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Wilson, M. (2022). And What About the Rest of the Big, Wide World? Corpse Decomposition and the Environment. In: Life After Death: What Happens to Your Body After You Die?. Springer Praxis Books(). Springer, Cham.

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