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Carcasses important for plants and insects in the Oostvaardersplassen

UG research published in PLOS ONE
22 January 2020

Allowing the carcasses of dead deer to remain in the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve has a positive effect on biodiversity in the area. Not only do the carcasses attract many more insects and other arthropods in the short term – but also in the long term, due to increased plant growth. Plants located near animal carcasses became five times bigger than usual, leading to a surge in the number of plant-eating invertebrates on the plants and, therefore, also in the number of their predators. This is the conclusion of a recently published study conducted by UG researcher Dr Roel van Klink, which was conducted before the number of large grazers was drastically reduced in connection with updated nature management policy.

Roel van Klink
Roel van Klink

‘The fact that carcasses are important for scavengers was, of course, no surprise to me. But it was a surprise that, after five months, there was such an enormous effect due to plant growth. The insects that live on these plants profit greatly from the carcasses’, says Roel van Klink. These results provide another insight into the role of dead animals in ecosystems. ‘People are becoming more accustomed to dead wood in Dutch forests, which leads to higher biodiversity. Dead animals in nature reserves, however, are still often taboo due to the commotion surrounding the Oostvaardersplassen in 2018’, explains Prof. Chris Smit, assistant professor at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences at the UG. And that is a fact that both researchers find a shame, considering the great value of carcasses for biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems, even on very fertile ground such as that in the Oostvaardersplassen.

Due to current legislation, the possibilities for allowing dead large grazers to remain are still limited in most nature areas. The researchers call for a relaxation of these regulations, so that biodiversity in other nature reserves can also benefit.

A carcass of a red deer in the Oostvaardersplassen.
A carcass of a red deer in the Oostvaardersplassen.

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Reference PLOS ONE: Van Klink R, van Laar-Wiersma J, Vorst O, Smit C (2020) 'Rewilding with large herbivores: Positive direct and delayed effects of carrion on plant and arthropod communities;, PLoS ONE 15 (1): e0226946.

Last modified:21 April 2020 3.05 p.m.
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