Chernobyl birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity
Rhett A. Butler,
April 3, 2007

Birds appear to prefer breeding sites with lower levels of radiation, according to research conducted in the immediate vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. The study, published in the current edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, may be the first to look at the effects of radiation on animal breeding behavior in the aftermath of Chernobyl.

Previous studies have suggest that wildlife is flourishing in the area around Chernobyl, and may actually be higher after the nuclear meltdown than before the disaster. Now A.P. Møller of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie and T.A. Mousseau of the University of South Carolina have examined the impact of radiation levels on nest selection.

Placing nest boxes in areas differing in levels of background radiation, Møller and Mousseau found that the Great tit (Parus major) and pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) "significantly avoided nest boxes in heavily contaminated areas."

The researchers propose that this observation may reflect improved fitness levels in birds exposed to lower levels of radiation.

"Individuals in highly contaminated areas have reduced levels of antioxidants in plasma and liver," they wrote. "Such individuals have reduced body condition, reproduce less frequently, and produce reduced clutch and brood size when compared with individuals breeding in highly contaminated areas. Therefore, we hypothesize a similar mechanism for hole nesting species, with individuals breeding in highly contaminated areas suffering from reduced antioxidant levels, thereby reducing the frequency of reproduction. If individuals differ in condition, with late breeding individuals suffering more from poor condition than early breeders, then we would expect dose effects to be more severe late during the breeding season.... Indeed, we found such effects for hatching success in the pied flycatcher."

The researchers say their work lays the groundwork for future studies.

"To the best of our knowledge, there are no previous study investigating the relationship between radiation and distribution and abundance of plants or animals," they wrote. "This study has implications for future studies."

CITATION: A.P. Møller and T.A. Mousseau (2007). Birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity in Chernobyl. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 27 March-03 April, 2007


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Rhett A. Butler, (April 03, 2007).

Chernobyl birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity.