Peer Review History

Original SubmissionJanuary 31, 2023
Decision Letter - Victoria E. Gibbon, Editor

PONE-D-23-02805Soil elemental changes during human decompositionPLOS ONE

Dear Dr. DeBruyn,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript to PLOS ONE. After careful consideration, we feel that it has merit but does not fully meet PLOS ONE’s publication criteria as it currently stands. Therefore, we invite you to submit a revised version of the manuscript that addresses the points raised during the review process. The revisions are minor and we look forward to receiving an updated version.

Please submit your revised manuscript by May 14 2023 11:59PM. If you will need more time than this to complete your revisions, please reply to this message or contact the journal office at plosone@plos.org. When you're ready to submit your revision, log on to https://www.editorialmanager.com/pone/ and select the 'Submissions Needing Revision' folder to locate your manuscript file.

Please include the following items when submitting your revised manuscript:

  • A rebuttal letter that responds to each point raised by the academic editor and reviewer(s). You should upload this letter as a separate file labeled 'Response to Reviewers'.
  • A marked-up copy of your manuscript that highlights changes made to the original version. You should upload this as a separate file labeled 'Revised Manuscript with Track Changes'.
  • An unmarked version of your revised paper without tracked changes. You should upload this as a separate file labeled 'Manuscript'.
If you would like to make changes to your financial disclosure, please include your updated statement in your cover letter. Guidelines for resubmitting your figure files are available below the reviewer comments at the end of this letter.

If applicable, we recommend that you deposit your laboratory protocols in protocols.io to enhance the reproducibility of your results. Protocols.io assigns your protocol its own identifier (DOI) so that it can be cited independently in the future. For instructions see: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/submission-guidelines#loc-laboratory-protocols. Additionally, PLOS ONE offers an option for publishing peer-reviewed Lab Protocol articles, which describe protocols hosted on protocols.io. Read more information on sharing protocols at https://plos.org/protocols?utm_medium=editorial-email&utm_source=authorletters&utm_campaign=protocols.

We look forward to receiving your revised manuscript.

Kind regards,

Victoria Elaine Gibbon

Academic Editor

PLOS ONE

Journal requirements:

When submitting your revision, we need you to address these additional requirements.

1. Please ensure that your manuscript meets PLOS ONE's style requirements, including those for file naming. The PLOS ONE style templates can be found at

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/file?id=wjVg/PLOSOne_formatting_sample_main_body.pdf and

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/file?id=ba62/PLOSOne_formatting_sample_title_authors_affiliations.pdf

2. Please note that PLOS ONE has specific guidelines on code sharing for submissions in which author-generated code underpins the findings in the manuscript. In these cases, all author-generated code must be made available without restrictions upon publication of the work. Please review our guidelines at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/materials-and-software-sharing#loc-sharing-code and ensure that your code is shared in a way that follows best practice and facilitates reproducibility and reuse.

3. In your Methods section, please provide additional information regarding the permits you obtained for the work. Please ensure you have included the full name of the authority that approved the field site access and, if no permits were required, a brief statement explaining why.

4. Thank you for stating the following financial disclosure:

“The authors acknowledge funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Award

No. D20AC00007) to CNS, SCL, AZM, DWS and JMD. The views, opinions, and/or findings expressed are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official views of policies of the Department of Defense or the United States Government (Approved for Public Release, Distribution Unlimited). Publication fees were granted by the University of Tennessee Librarians Open Publishing Support Fund.”

Please state what role the funders took in the study.  If the funders had no role, please state: "The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript."

If this statement is not correct you must amend it as needed.

Please include this amended Role of Funder statement in your cover letter; we will change the online submission form on your behalf.

5. We note that Supplementary Figure S1 in your submission contain [map/satellite] images which may be copyrighted. All PLOS content is published under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which means that the manuscript, images, and Supporting Information files will be freely available online, and any third party is permitted to access, download, copy, distribute, and use these materials in any way, even commercially, with proper attribution. For these reasons, we cannot publish previously copyrighted maps or satellite images created using proprietary data, such as Google software (Google Maps, Street View, and Earth). For more information, see our copyright guidelines: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/licenses-and-copyright.

We require you to either (1) present written permission from the copyright holder to publish these figures specifically under the CC BY 4.0 license, or (2) remove the figures from your submission:

a. You may seek permission from the original copyright holder of Supplementary Figure S1 to publish the content specifically under the CC BY 4.0 license. 

We recommend that you contact the original copyright holder with the Content Permission Form (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/file?id=7c09/content-permission-form.pdf) and the following text:

“I request permission for the open-access journal PLOS ONE to publish XXX under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL) CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Please be aware that this license allows unrestricted use and distribution, even commercially, by third parties. Please reply and provide explicit written permission to publish XXX under a CC BY license and complete the attached form.”

Please upload the completed Content Permission Form or other proof of granted permissions as an "Other" file with your submission.

In the figure caption of the copyrighted figure, please include the following text: “Reprinted from [ref] under a CC BY license, with permission from [name of publisher], original copyright [original copyright year].”

b. If you are unable to obtain permission from the original copyright holder to publish these figures under the CC BY 4.0 license or if the copyright holder’s requirements are incompatible with the CC BY 4.0 license, please either i) remove the figure or ii) supply a replacement figure that complies with the CC BY 4.0 license. Please check copyright information on all replacement figures and update the figure caption with source information. If applicable, please specify in the figure caption text when a figure is similar but not identical to the original image and is therefore for illustrative purposes only.

The following resources for replacing copyrighted map figures may be helpful:

USGS National Map Viewer (public domain): http://viewer.nationalmap.gov/viewer/

The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth (public domain): http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/clickmap/

Maps at the CIA (public domain): https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html and https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/cia-maps-publications/index.html

NASA Earth Observatory (public domain): http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

Landsat: http://landsat.visibleearth.nasa.gov/

USGS EROS (Earth Resources Observatory and Science (EROS) Center) (public domain): http://eros.usgs.gov/#

Natural Earth (public domain): http://www.naturalearthdata.com/

6. Please review your reference list to ensure that it is complete and correct. If you have cited papers that have been retracted, please include the rationale for doing so in the manuscript text, or remove these references and replace them with relevant current references. Any changes to the reference list should be mentioned in the rebuttal letter that accompanies your revised manuscript. If you need to cite a retracted article, indicate the article’s retracted status in the References list and also include a citation and full reference for the retraction notice.

[Note: HTML markup is below. Please do not edit.]

Reviewers' comments:

Reviewer's Responses to Questions

Comments to the Author

1. Is the manuscript technically sound, and do the data support the conclusions?

The manuscript must describe a technically sound piece of scientific research with data that supports the conclusions. Experiments must have been conducted rigorously, with appropriate controls, replication, and sample sizes. The conclusions must be drawn appropriately based on the data presented.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

********** 

2. Has the statistical analysis been performed appropriately and rigorously?

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

********** 

3. Have the authors made all data underlying the findings in their manuscript fully available?

The PLOS Data policy requires authors to make all data underlying the findings described in their manuscript fully available without restriction, with rare exception (please refer to the Data Availability Statement in the manuscript PDF file). The data should be provided as part of the manuscript or its supporting information, or deposited to a public repository. For example, in addition to summary statistics, the data points behind means, medians and variance measures should be available. If there are restrictions on publicly sharing data—e.g. participant privacy or use of data from a third party—those must be specified.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

********** 

4. Is the manuscript presented in an intelligible fashion and written in standard English?

PLOS ONE does not copyedit accepted manuscripts, so the language in submitted articles must be clear, correct, and unambiguous. Any typographical or grammatical errors should be corrected at revision, so please note any specific errors here.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

********** 

5. Review Comments to the Author

Please use the space provided to explain your answers to the questions above. You may also include additional comments for the author, including concerns about dual publication, research ethics, or publication ethics. (Please upload your review as an attachment if it exceeds 20,000 characters)

Reviewer #1: PONE-D-23-02805

The authors present a timely and interesting study examining changes in soil elemental composition associated with human decomposition. The manuscript is well written, methods and data analyses seem appropriate, and the authors do not make interpretations beyond the scope of their data. The study is somewhat limited by small sample sizes but considering the nature of the work that is understandable and should not preclude publication. I have a number of minor clarifications but don’t see any reason not to accept this article for publication. However, I am not an expert in the soil physical or chemical analyses performed for this study and as such defer to the opinion of other reviewers or editorial board member.

Minor comments

The control sites were 2m from each body. What was the rationale for this specific distance? Based on the results it sees to be sufficient but no justification is provided in the text.

Table 2. Please clarify what ‘Trial 3’ in the table title refer to.

Figure 3. Branching in the cluster analysis appears to indicate that Mn and Se cluster with Group 1 rather than Group 2. Please outline why these elements are included in Group 1.

Reviewer #2: I highly recommend the presented research for publication. Althoug my positive opinion there are some comments for your consideration before the final publication:

comments to the line 236: The change in mobility under the influence of soil acidity applies to Al, but also to other trace metals. For example, The availability and mobility of Cu and Zn will increase in low pH environments due to the chemical form in which these metals are present in the soil solutions. Maybe it's enough to add this trace metal to the list with the rest, then?

line 401: Szelecz et al. (2018) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.02.03 observed a decrease in soil pH (in effect, acidification) under the influence of decomposing Sus scrofa carcasses. A study by Fancher et al. (2017) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2017.08.002 did not conclusively demonstrate that decomposition of human cadavers decreases soil pH. The results were divergent. Barton et al. (2020) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12024-020-00297-2 in a study compared the decomposition of human and pig cadavers. The effect of cadaver decomposition, regardless of species, affected changes in soil pH levels in a similar way. In my opinion, it is difficult to determine a clear trend here.

line 446: In study of Cholewa et al (2018) DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2022.111208, after about 200 days, the level of inorganic form of phosphorus (P2O5) in the soil with buried pig limbs differed from the control fields, as well as from each other (the depth of buried animal tissues was a differentiating factor).

line 477: Results of Cholewa et al (2018) DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2022.111208 confirm that it was the same with potassium. Plants growing at the site where the pigs' limbs were buried did not have higher levels of K, although there was more of it in the soil - perhaps the plants are not responsible for its loss (as well as for the loss of Na, as demonstrated by the authors of the reviewed paper).

line 517: Was the drop in Ca levels related to the appearance of adipocere? Fiedler et al. (2004) suggested that the calcium was bound in adipocere. Fiedler, Schneckenberger, & Graw, Characterization of Soils Containing Adipocere. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 47, 561–568 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-004-3237-4

********** 

6. PLOS authors have the option to publish the peer review history of their article (what does this mean?). If published, this will include your full peer review and any attached files.

If you choose “no”, your identity will remain anonymous but your review may still be made public.

Do you want your identity to be public for this peer review? For information about this choice, including consent withdrawal, please see our Privacy Policy.

Reviewer #1: No

Reviewer #2: No

**********

[NOTE: If reviewer comments were submitted as an attachment file, they will be attached to this email and accessible via the submission site. Please log into your account, locate the manuscript record, and check for the action link "View Attachments". If this link does not appear, there are no attachment files.]

While revising your submission, please upload your figure files to the Preflight Analysis and Conversion Engine (PACE) digital diagnostic tool, https://pacev2.apexcovantage.com/. PACE helps ensure that figures meet PLOS requirements. To use PACE, you must first register as a user. Registration is free. Then, login and navigate to the UPLOAD tab, where you will find detailed instructions on how to use the tool. If you encounter any issues or have any questions when using PACE, please email PLOS at figures@plos.org. Please note that Supporting Information files do not need this step.

Revision 1

Please see uploaded "response to reviewers" file

Attachments
Attachment
Submitted filename: PONE_D_23_02805 Response to reviewers.docx
Decision Letter - Victoria E. Gibbon, Editor

Soil elemental changes during human decomposition

PONE-D-23-02805R1

Dear Dr. DeBruyn,

We’re pleased to inform you that your manuscript has been judged scientifically suitable for publication and will be formally accepted for publication once it meets all outstanding technical requirements.

Within one week, you’ll receive an e-mail detailing the required amendments. When these have been addressed, you’ll receive a formal acceptance letter and your manuscript will be scheduled for publication.

An invoice for payment will follow shortly after the formal acceptance. To ensure an efficient process, please log into Editorial Manager at http://www.editorialmanager.com/pone/, click the 'Update My Information' link at the top of the page, and double check that your user information is up-to-date. If you have any billing related questions, please contact our Author Billing department directly at authorbilling@plos.org.

If your institution or institutions have a press office, please notify them about your upcoming paper to help maximize its impact. If they’ll be preparing press materials, please inform our press team as soon as possible -- no later than 48 hours after receiving the formal acceptance. Your manuscript will remain under strict press embargo until 2 pm Eastern Time on the date of publication. For more information, please contact onepress@plos.org.

Kind regards,

Victoria E. Gibbon

Academic Editor

PLOS ONE

Additional Editor Comments (optional):

Reviewers' comments:

Reviewer's Responses to Questions

Comments to the Author

1. If the authors have adequately addressed your comments raised in a previous round of review and you feel that this manuscript is now acceptable for publication, you may indicate that here to bypass the “Comments to the Author” section, enter your conflict of interest statement in the “Confidential to Editor” section, and submit your "Accept" recommendation.

Reviewer #2: All comments have been addressed

**********

2. Is the manuscript technically sound, and do the data support the conclusions?

The manuscript must describe a technically sound piece of scientific research with data that supports the conclusions. Experiments must have been conducted rigorously, with appropriate controls, replication, and sample sizes. The conclusions must be drawn appropriately based on the data presented.

Reviewer #2: Yes

**********

3. Has the statistical analysis been performed appropriately and rigorously?

Reviewer #2: Yes

**********

4. Have the authors made all data underlying the findings in their manuscript fully available?

The PLOS Data policy requires authors to make all data underlying the findings described in their manuscript fully available without restriction, with rare exception (please refer to the Data Availability Statement in the manuscript PDF file). The data should be provided as part of the manuscript or its supporting information, or deposited to a public repository. For example, in addition to summary statistics, the data points behind means, medians and variance measures should be available. If there are restrictions on publicly sharing data—e.g. participant privacy or use of data from a third party—those must be specified.

Reviewer #2: Yes

**********

5. Is the manuscript presented in an intelligible fashion and written in standard English?

PLOS ONE does not copyedit accepted manuscripts, so the language in submitted articles must be clear, correct, and unambiguous. Any typographical or grammatical errors should be corrected at revision, so please note any specific errors here.

Reviewer #2: Yes

**********

6. Review Comments to the Author

Please use the space provided to explain your answers to the questions above. You may also include additional comments for the author, including concerns about dual publication, research ethics, or publication ethics. (Please upload your review as an attachment if it exceeds 20,000 characters)

Reviewer #2: (No Response)

**********

7. PLOS authors have the option to publish the peer review history of their article (what does this mean?). If published, this will include your full peer review and any attached files.

If you choose “no”, your identity will remain anonymous but your review may still be made public.

Do you want your identity to be public for this peer review? For information about this choice, including consent withdrawal, please see our Privacy Policy.

Reviewer #2: No

**********

Formally Accepted
Acceptance Letter - Victoria E. Gibbon, Editor

PONE-D-23-02805R1

Soil elemental changes during human decomposition

Dear Dr. DeBruyn:

I'm pleased to inform you that your manuscript has been deemed suitable for publication in PLOS ONE. Congratulations! Your manuscript is now with our production department.

If your institution or institutions have a press office, please let them know about your upcoming paper now to help maximize its impact. If they'll be preparing press materials, please inform our press team within the next 48 hours. Your manuscript will remain under strict press embargo until 2 pm Eastern Time on the date of publication. For more information please contact onepress@plos.org.

If we can help with anything else, please email us at plosone@plos.org.

Thank you for submitting your work to PLOS ONE and supporting open access.

Kind regards,

PLOS ONE Editorial Office Staff

on behalf of

Prof Victoria E. Gibbon

Academic Editor

PLOS ONE

Open letter on the publication of peer review reports

PLOS recognizes the benefits of transparency in the peer review process. Therefore, we enable the publication of all of the content of peer review and author responses alongside final, published articles. Reviewers remain anonymous, unless they choose to reveal their names.

We encourage other journals to join us in this initiative. We hope that our action inspires the community, including researchers, research funders, and research institutions, to recognize the benefits of published peer review reports for all parts of the research system.

Learn more at ASAPbio .