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Publication Detail
Freshwater diatom persistence on clothing II: Further analysis of species assemblage dynamics over investigative timescales
Diatoms are a useful form of environmental trace evidence, yielding a circumstantial link between persons and scenes of forensic interest. A developing empirical research base has sought to understand those factors affecting the transfer and persistence of freshwater diatoms on clothing and footwear surfaces. Although an initial study has demonstrated that diatoms can persist on clothing following weeks of wear, no previous research has explored the temporal dynamics of a persistent species assemblage over timescales pertinent to forensic investigations. This study therefore aimed to determine if: (1) valve morphology (size and shape) influences diatom persistence, (2) the relative abundance of taxa within an assemblage affects retention, and (3) a persistent diatom assemblage retrieved from clothing after one month can reliably be compared to the site of initial transfer. To build on previous research findings which highlighted the impact of substrate and environmental seasonality on diatom transfer and persistence, here, nine clothing materials were tested in spring before a seasonal comparison in the winter. Fabric swatches were immersed in a freshwater river, worn attached to clothing, and subsamples retrieved at regular intervals (hours, days, weeks) up to one month post-immersion. Diatoms were extracted using a H2O2 technique and analysed via microscopy. The results indicated that smaller diatoms (< 10 ┬Ám) are retained in significantly greater abundance, with no statistically significant difference between centric and pennate diatom loss over time. Although a persistent species assemblage was relatively stable over the one month of wear, significant differences were identified between clothing substrate in the spring and between the seasonal samples. The most abundant environmental taxa were consistently identified in the forensic samples, with greater variability attributed to the retention of relatively less common species. The findings suggest that, despite a loss in the abundance and species-richness of diatoms retrieved from clothing over time, a persistent assemblage may provide a useful circumstantial link to the site of initial transfer. The complex relationships between clothing type, environmental seasonality, and time since wear on retention, emphasise the need for diatom trace evidence to be carefully interpreted within an exclusionary framework, and the significance of any casework findings to be determined with reference to empirical evidence bases.
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