Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Barton, Brandon

Committee Member

Jordan, Heather

Committee Member

Goddard, Jerome

Committee Member

Webb, Stephen

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Biological Sciences


Death and decomposition are natural processes that are generally well-understood. However, large events of death, such as mass mortality events (MMEs) are increasing in frequency and their impacts on the ecosystem are largely unknown. These events may have both bottom-up effects from increased nutrient input as well as top-down effects from loss of an ecological functional group by the affected population. Different functional MMEs may result in different top-down effects, creating cascading effects. In Chapter 1, I test the hypothesis that scavenger and herbivore simulated MMEs generate novel bottom-up and top-down effects. Results indicate that MMEs have a significant effect on communities, including on soil chemistry, plant tissue, soil microbes, and soil arthropods. Carrion effects on the community were both a result of biomass (MMEs vs. single carcasses) as well as functional group exclusion (herbivores, scavengers).

Further, MMEs may also generate long-lasting community effects due to the size and nature of the disturbance. In Chapter 3, I evaluated the potential long-term of effects of MMEs by sampling an experimental MME that was conducted four years earlier. I found that MMEs generated long-term asymmetrical effects on ecosystems, with some noticeable changes in increased soil nutrients as well as an unexpected effect of biomass on aboveground arthropod communities, with very little effect on belowground soil arthropods.

However, studies of long-term decomposition from mass carcasses may expand beyond studying MMEs. Composting of carrion is a continuous disturbance event, with numerous carcasses being deposited in the same location over a longer period of time. In Chapter 2, I analyzed potential effects on the surrounding community at a unique instance of concentrated carcass disposal (5 years old). Significant differences were revealed between samples taken near the compost pit (0 m, 5 m) compared to further distances (10 m, 25 m, 50 m) with calcium being increased away from the pit, different soil microbial communities at the pit than farther distances and increased aboveground arthropod abundance at the pit. These experiments provide us with a greater, holistic understanding of previously understudied events of mass death on community structure and ecosystem function.