A concerning number of humans end up dead in wooden areas.
There are many possible causes, ranging from tragic accidents to murder.
In many cases, search parties experience difficulties in discovering human remains hidden in thick woods, even with specially trained dogs.
The Good News
A study published in Trends in Plant Science says that there’s a chance that plants might be a potent ally in the search for decomposing bodies.
As the human body decomposes, the idea is that it can severely alter the soil composition, thus shaping the evolution of the plants growing nearby.
Those plants could work as beacons, alerting search party members to points of interest, significantly speeding up the discovery and recovery processes.
The research was led by a team fro the University of Tennessee, and it suggests that changes in plant behavior are evident in the presence of decaying corpses.
The researchers name close areas “cadaver decomposition islands” because they differentiate from regular forest soil in a specific way.
Neal Stewart, the co-author of the research, wrote in The Conversation:
“When people go missing and die—whether by natural causes or by foul play—their bodies start to decompose if the weather is warm.”
“And if they decompose in the forest under the shade, finding and recovering their bodies can be difficult if not impossible. One solution is to learn how plants respond to decomposing humans and then ‘listen’ to what they tell us about the people who’ve died under their canopies,” he added.
One of the most significant contributions of a dead body to the soil on which it lays is a substantial influx of nitrogen.
Plants like nitrogen, as is provokes a growth spurt and prompts leaves to turn greener than usual.
As Stewart suggested, other changes could be present based on medications taken by the human prior to death or metals present in their bodies.