Small mammal scavenging of human cadavers is a prominent topic in forensic taphonomy literature. For example, scientists have described how small mammal scavenging can disrupt insect activity associated with the decomposition process of cadavers and how small mammal claw and teeth marks in soft tissue can promote skeletonization, both of which can have detrimental effects on the ability to determine the postmortem interval (time since death). The relationship between decomposing human remains, small mammal ecology, and the surrounding environment, however, remain largely unstudied. The goal of this project is to offer a natural history description of small mammal use of human cadavers and the immediate local environment around the cadaver. To achieve this goal, we documented small mammal activities, specifically Peromyscus spp., associated with human donor remains at the NMU Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST). Specifically, we documented nesting activities, travel corridors, and foraging activities to better understand the possible ecological implications of small mammal use of the donor remains. Along with these observations, we conducted an extensive literature review to determine how our observational data at FROST fit in with diverse perspectives and information from previous forensic studies involving small mammals. Based on our observations and literature review, it is clear that human remains may provide a substantial resource for small mammals through the use of human tissue for nutrients as well as shelter. By describing the natural history of small mammal activities at FROST, we hope to encourage forensic scientists to consider the ecological implications of human donor-based research on local small mammal communities.

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Faculty Advisor

Dr. Diana Lafferty

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