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From reading my blog, you know that climate change will affect all sorts of biological systems. Now picture, without vomiting, a dead body lying outside in October, which it is unseasonably warm. Would you expect to have the same insects infesting? Would you think that perhaps if it was warmer they might develop faster, altering the estimated time since hatching and therefore time since cadaver death? Could other insects that are commonly found further south or at lower elevations suddenly be found in your cadaver?
Turns out changes in the cadaver fauna are already starting to be seen in both Europe and the US, as these insects are starting to move further north (1, 2, 3, 4). This is problematic if you are a forensic entomologist, because you can no longer use these insects as indications of where the body started its decomposition (ok, this might shock you, but people sometimes move dead bodies). Also, some larvae at certain stages move away from eating flesh and start grazing on the other cadaver-eating insects. If they are particularly voracious, they may completely clear the body of these other insects making it more difficult to identify when the person died. Grossed out yet?
So not only is climate change going to affect us in our lives, but it will follow us into our deaths. Let’s just hope it doesn’t find a way to mess up the afterlife. I have big plans to annoy climate deniers when I’m a ghost: making the walls bleed crude oil, leaving traces of the famous CO2 hockey stick in the mirror and moaning “Al Gore is your earth mother” in the middle of the night. And also switching their regular coffee for decaf.
I find it hard to believe it will prevent them from determining an accurate time of death.