Wildlife flourishing after experiencing devastating nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima

April 26, 1986 was a fateful day in Ukraine as the nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, discharged an enormous amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. This catastrophe, which is considered one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents in history, contaminated a large amount of land stretching over Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and other parts of Europe. The health implications of the Chernobyl accident were immense, as well the detrimental influence it had on the many ecosystems of the area. At the time of the accident, scientists questioned the environment’s ability to rebuild itself. However, according to research done by Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, and other researchers from the University of the West of England, wildlife, in particular bird species, is thriving in areas where radiation struck the hardest.

The research is published in the Royal Society journal Biological Letters. It is likely that this research which is specific to the Chernobyl accident will apply to the Fukushima accident in Japan that occurred in 2011. It is important to note that this research will help identify the “biological effects of radiation” on the environment.

Although there has been a great deal of speculation about the harmful radiation effects that a nuclear accident, like Chernobyl, has on ecology, Professor Smith does not seem extremely startled by the findings. For instance, there has been many findings about some of the damage done at the radiation site, however, crucial details on the damage has not been presented. Smith comments on this by saying, “wildlife populations in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl have recovered and are actually doing well and even better than before because the human population has been removed.” Smith notes that one of the important reasons why wildlife is thriving in those areas is because of the absence of people and their abusive behaviors on the environment.

More specifically, this research shows that the obvious destruction in bird species is not caused solely by radiation exposure, but also by “habitat, diet or ecosystem structure.” Today, radiation levels are greatly lowered. Researchers note that damage of some species today is no different than the damage found in those same species during the time directly following the Chernobyl accident. It is hopeful after examining this research that wildlife of that area will be able to restore the biodiversity that was once so prevalent. The removal of humans in the area is greatly responsible for much of the reconstruction of the wildlife that appears today.


J.T. Smith, N. J. Willey, J. T. Hancock. Low dose ionizing radiation produces too few reactive oxygen species to directly affect antioxidant concentrations in cells. Biology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0150

University of Portsmouth (2012, April 11). Wildlife thriving after nuclear disaster? Radiation from Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents not as harmful to wildlife as feared. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/04/120411084107.htm

A tiny sparrow sings over the sounds of San Francisco

A new study by George Mason University’s David Luther shows that a species of sparrow changes its song to be heard in noisy San Francisco.

With the addition of more cars and modern machinery in urban environments, the amount of sound in cities has drastically increased since 1969. When Luther learned how the overall sound of the city had increased, he wondered how birds in the area could be heard over the increasing noises of the city. To try and find an answer to this question, Luther compared songs of the White crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) over time in San Francisco’s Presidio district. Sound data clearly shows that the city sound in that district have been increasing over time so it was a great area to track any song changes.

White Crowned Sparrow

Luther’s data showed that the birds have in fact changed thier song many times since 1969, pehaps searching for a tune that could best be heard.

“It’s the really low hum where almost all of this human-made noise is — in this very low bandwidth. The birds can often sing at the top end of that low bandwidth,” says Luther, whistling a lively bird tune, “and if there’s no traffic around, that’s just fine. But if they’re singing and there’s this,” he says, making a low humming noise, “the lowest portion of that song gets lost, and the birds can’t hear it.”

Luther explains how the constant noise in the city makes it so the original song of the sparrows could not be heard by others. Since male sparrows use this song to attract mates, its a big problem if no one can hear them. The sparrows have adapted their song in this area specifically to be heard over the city noise. Birds in different areas have been know to adapt different dialects of song. Researchers are calling the song of the sparrows in the Presidio district, the San Francisco Dialect.

Sparrows and many other birds also use songs to defend their territories. They sing to warn other male birds “this is my area, keep out”. After establishing that the sparrows songs were changing over time, Luther wondered if the birds would instinctually recognize the old songs and respond.

The researchers played song recordings on an IPod speaker in the Presidio district to observe the response of male birds to songs from different years. There was virtually no response to the old songs, but the new songs provoked an aggressive response from the male sparrows. This indicates that the old songs are not remembered and corroborates other findings that songs are mostly learned behaviors.

Even though their old song has been lost, the White crowned sparrow is a great example of the capability of birds to adapt to new environments.