Decomposition of animal bodies in the burial environment plays a key role in the biochemistry of the soil, altering the balance of the local microbial populations present before the introduction of the carcass. Despite the growing number of studies on decomposition and soil bacterial populations, less is known on its effects on fungal communities. Shifts in the fungal populations at different post-mortem intervals (PMIs) could provide insights for PMI estimation and clarify the role that specific fungal taxa have at specific decomposition stages. In this study, we buried pig carcasses over a period of 1- to 6-months, and we sampled the soil in contact with each carcass at different PMIs. We performed metabarcoding analysis of the mycobiome targeting both the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) 1 and 2, to elucidate which one was more suitable for this purpose. Our results showed a decrease in the fungal taxonomic richness associated with increasing PMIs, and the alteration of the soil fungal signature even after 6 months post-burial, showing the inability of soil communities to restore their original composition within this timeframe. The results highlighted taxonomic trends associated with specific PMIs, such as the increase of the Mortierellomycota after 4-and 6-months and of Ascomycota particularly after 2 months, and the decrease of Basidiomycota from the first to the last time point. We have found a limited number of taxa specifically associated with the carrion and not present in the control soil, showing that the major contributors to the recorded changes are originated from the soil and were not introduced by the carrion. As this is the first study conducted on burial graves, it sets the baseline for additional studies to investigate the role of fungal communities on prolonged decomposition periods and to identify fungal biomarkers to improve the accuracy of PMI prediction for forensic applications.
Procopio, N., Ghignone, S., Voyron, S., Chiapello, M., Williams, A., Chamberlain, A., Mello, A., & Buckley, M. (2020). Soil Fungal Communities Investigated by Metabarcoding Within Simulated Forensic Burial Contexts. Frontiers in Microbiology, 11, . https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.01686