3: Forensic Ecology
Published:30 Jun 2016
Forensic ecology contributes to a wide range of criminal and civil investigations, and provides intelligence for investigators, and probative evidence for the courts, particularly in the UK. This chapter outlines the range of organic particulates (living or dead), and the plants, animals, and fungi, that produce valuable proxy indicators which provide trace evidence. It describes instances where this is useful, and provides an overview of methodologies. Factors that determine whether any specific proxy indicator will be found at a particular place are discussed. Forensic ecology is the study of organisms and their environments. The organism, or part of it, provides proxy evidence for the environment. Interactions between any biological community and its habitat are complex, and must be understood. If a proxy can be identified, as discussed in this chapter, predictive information can be obtained about its origin. Soil is pivotal to understanding ecosystems and, because they limit vegetation, plant proxies may inform on soil type, geology, and even local climate. Proxies in soil, sediment, dust, water, or on vegetation, can be transferred to clothing, footwear, hair, skin, nails, vehicles, and a wide range of other materials and objects. Whole plants, fungi (including lichens), and the soil surface can provide direct evidence, and also yield and transfer trace material to people and associated case exhibits. As identified in this chapter, palynological and mycological trace evidence is powerful, because of the number of independent markers involved.