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  Significance of acari as location and time markers of buried corpses and mass graves

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr M A Perotti  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Overview:


The project investigates the forensic information carried by micro-arthropods of buried corpses with a focus on mites and mass graves. These micro-arthropods originate from several sources; the soil surrounding buried corpses, the corpses themselves, and traces associated with the corpses. Micro-arthropods of the corpses might inform about the environment and condition while the person was still alive. The traces might contain arthropods from previous locations or manipulations where victims might have been held or tortured or killed and from previous places of decomposition or burial. The challenge is that the micro-arthropods from the different sources will admix, but their biology might reveal their varied origins. Micro-arthropod data will provide information about: 1) the decomposition process, which is different in mass graves compared to individual graves, 2) time since death and time since buried, especially for layered mass graves where corpses have been deposited over an extended period of time, 3) relocation of corpses, 4) circumstances during death. The work will aid the development of new methods to collect and analyse forensic evidence of biological traces.

Secondment: a placement/secondment will take place for 3-12 months during the 3rd year of PhD (2026-2027) at the Laboratorio de investigaciones en Derechos Humanos y Procesos Sociales (LIDeProJ), National University of Jujuy, Argentina.


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Section

School of Biological Sciences (SBS), University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding, improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into the new Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach, public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically.


·        It is mandatory that the candidate does not hold a doctoral degree at the recruitment date.

·        Candidates can hold any nationality. It is mandatory that the candidate should have no residency or main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the United Kingdom for more than 12 months in the 36 months before the recruitment date.

·        Minimum Bachelor degree or equivalent in Biology or related discipline

·        Desirable: Knowledge of Acarology; Expertise in Taxonomy; Experience in forensic science research or relevant interdisciplinary projects.

·        Strong analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills.

·        Ability to work effectively both independently and as part of a multidisciplinary team.

·        Specific requirements: Applicant should be willing and able to carry out simulated mass grave experiments in San Juan and La Rioja, Argentina and be seconded for 3 months or more to human mass grave studies in Jujuy, Argentina and/or elsewhere.

·        Language: English, fluent

·        The candidate must meet the University’s PhD entry requirements

How to apply:

To apply, complete an online application for a PhD in Biological Sciences at 

Please upload your CV and a Cover Letter. If the application system prompts you to submit a research proposal, paste in the project title and move on to the next step.



Further information:



Dr M. Alejandra Perotti, email: [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

• Relevant Tuition fees covered

• Competitive Salary

• 3 year programme

• International mobility and training programme covered

• This is part of a Horizon Europe, Marie S. Curie Doctoral Network: Natural Traces in forensic investigations - how the analysis of non-human biological evidence can solve crime

• Start date: The successful candidate must be available to start between 1 September 2024 and 1 January 2025


Perotti, M.A. and Braig, H.R. (2022) The arthropods of corpses from above ground and from deep below. Zoosymposia, 22. doi:
Smith, G., Manzano-Marín, A., Reyes-Prieto, M., Antunes, C., Ashworth, V., Goselle, O., Jan, A., Moya, A., Latorre, A., Perotti, M.A., Braig, H.R. (2022) Human follicular mites: ectoparasites becoming symbionts. Molecular Biology and Evolution , 39 (6). doi:
Rai, J., Pickles, B., Perotti, M.A. (2022) The impact of the decomposition process of shallow graves on soil mite abundance. Journal of Forensic Sciences , 67 (2). pp. 605-618. doi:
Pedersen, M. , Antunes, C. , De Cahsan, B. , Moreno-Mayar, J. , Sikora, M. , Vinner, L. , Mann, D. , Klimov, P. , Black, S. , Michieli, C. , Braig, H.R., Perotti, M.A. (2021) Ancient human genomes and environmental DNA from the cement attaching 2,000 year-old head lice nits. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 39 (2). doi:
Rai, J., Pickles, B., Perotti, M.A. (2021) Assemblages of Acari in shallow burials: mites as markers of the burial environment, of the stage of decay and of body-cadaver regions.. Experimental and Applied Acarology , 85 pp.247-276. doi:
Perotti, M. and Braig, H.R. (2020) Acarology in crimino-legal investigations: the human acarofauna during life and death. In: Byrd, J. and Tomberlin, J., (eds.) Forensic Entomology: The utility of arthropods in legal investigations. 3rd Ed.. Taylor & Francis Group

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