3-Tons of Dead Feral Pigs Made for a Helluva Experiment


Before

❝ In nature, mass mortality sometimes happens. More than 200,000 saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan drop dead in a matter of weeks; 337 dead whales wash up in a remote fjord in southern Chile; some 300 reindeer in Norway are felled by a single bolt of lightning— all that has happened since 2015. There’s evidence such spectacular displays of death are increasing in frequency due to climate change…

The problem is the die-offs are unpredictable. Once one has happened, scientists can’t go back in time to make the baseline measurements that would allow them to say how exactly an ecosystem has been changed by a sudden jolt of animal carcasses…

❝ …The team needed an immense mass of dead animals. Luckily, wildlife biologist Marcus Lashley of Mississipi State had connections with people at state and federal agencies who are responsible for combatting a wildlife pest that currently plagues Mississippi and many other states.

A few phone calls later, the dead feral pigs started streaming in…

❝ …on July 5th, 2016, with the help of some technicians graciously loaned to them by colleagues, they dragged 6,000 pounds of dead pigs into their study plots and left them to rot.

Almost immediately, camera traps recorded dozens of vultures descending on the piles of pigs. Sticky traps to collect insects had to be changed daily because “you couldn’t have stuck another one on there,” Brandon Barton of Mississippi State University says. The writhing maggot swarms on the carcasses were several inches deep.

Vultures and maggots were to be expected, of course, but the intensity of the response awed the researchers. “We were completely unprepared for what happened,” Barton says…The biological response was so extreme that the researchers had to abandon some of their sampling methods…

❝ Even now, more than a year later, the sites remain ecologically scarred. “Will they ever go back to normal? Probably not,” Barton says…Though not much is left of the three tons of dead pig they started with, the researchers plan to continue monitoring their experimental plots until they’re indistinguishable from the surrounding forest—which may be never, they note. “We’re going to measure this for the rest of our careers,” Lashley predicts.

RTFA. Truly interesting. I’ve blogged before about decomp, learning from the natural processes is an important part of criminology. This study takes a look at death in another direction.

An interesting read. If you’re up for it.

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