Introduction to the Topic of Carrion Ecology and Management

  • Pedro P. OleaEmail author
  • Patricia Mateo-Tomás
  • José A. Sánchez-Zapata
Part of the Wildlife Research Monographs book series (WIREMO, volume 2)


Carrion, dead animal matter, is an inherent component of the all aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, playing a central role in their functioning. Yet, unlike dead plant matter, the study of the decomposition of dead animals has received little attention in the fields of ecology, wildlife conservation and environmental management. In this introductory chapter, we present the topic of carrion ecology and management and outline the scope and structure of the book. Carrion usually appears in the ecosystems as a pulsed food resource exploited by a plethora of species from microorganisms to invertebrate and vertebrate scavengers. This wide diversity of carrion-eaters supports key ecological functions and ecosystem services such as the recycling of nutrients and energy, carcass disposal and disease spread regulation. Given the unpredictable and ephemeral nature of carrion, few animals have specialized in the sole consumption of this resource (obligate scavengers), and so most consumers (hundreds of species) exploit it optionally (facultative scavengers). Scavengers feeding on animal carcasses, i.e. scavenging, provide numerous trophic links that structure and stabilize the food webs. Carcasses are hotspots of biodiversity, pulses of essential nutrients and centres of intense biological activity, all of which contribute to increase the heterogeneity in the landscape. Today, carrion biomass in ecosystems is rapidly increasing as a result of growing human activities (e.g. farming, hunting, fisheries, road causalities). We need to know how carrion-subsidized ecosystems assimilate this anthropogenic dead biomass and what the ecological consequences of these inputs are. We have also conducted a bibliographic analysis indicating that, although research on carrion ecology and scavenging has grown in the last years (up to 84 articles in 2017), it still receives a very limited scientific attention within the ecology field, particularly compared with other ecological topics such as predation (5657 articles in 2017). This book aims to compile the existing knowledge in carrion ecology and management up to date to provide a comprehensive summary for researchers, wildlife managers, teachers and students approaching this emergent discipline of growing interests in ecology and conservation.


Carcass Carrion Dead animal matter Decomposition Ecosystem services Education Ecological functions Human-mediated carrion Organic detritus Pulsed resource Scavenging 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro P. Olea
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patricia Mateo-Tomás
    • 3
    • 4
  • José A. Sánchez-Zapata
    • 5
  1. 1.Centro de Investigación en Biodiversidad y Cambio Global (CIBC-UAM), Universidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de EcologíaUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Functional Ecology (CFE), Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  4. 4.Research Unit of Biodiversity(UMIB, UO/CSIC/PA)MieresSpain
  5. 5.Departamento de Biología AplicadaUniversidad Miguel HernándezElcheSpain

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