Birds With Orange and Brown Plummage More Sensitive to Chernobyl Radiation

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Photo credit: ogiienko/Creative Commons

On April 26, 1986, reactor four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic power increase that led to an explosion of its core and the dispersal of radioactive fallout over 100,000 square kilometers surrounding the plant.

Though the region has been studied extensively for the last 25 years, new research continues to uncover impacts and effects of the accident that were never anticipated. A recent discovery that orange and brown birds have suffered more than others is just one such example.High levels of radiation, like those found at the Chernobyl site and its surrounds, have negative effects on humans and wildlife that have been well documented. In the case of birds in and around Chernobyl, the most obvious negative impact is a decrease in populations.

Looking at 97 different species of birds around the periphery of Chernobyl, researchers at the Laboratory of Ecology, Systematics and Evolution at the University of Paris-Sur, in France, found that among 64 species populations decreased as radiation levels increased. Ismael Galván, who authored the study, explained that the remaining 33 species appeared to experience a benefit from the radiation increase. This is likely explained, he said, by shrinking populations of competitors.

All species, however, were not impacted in equal measure. Galván found that birds with red and brown plumage—caused by pheomelanin pigment—had suffered more severely. Pheomelanin consumes glutathione—an important antioxidant that fights the effects of radiation—which impairs the birds' ability to survive in the more toxic environment.

Read more about Chernobyl:
Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains, Shorter Lives
Chernobyl: Wildlife Haven or a Dangerous Wasteland?
Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Upgraded to INES Level 7, Like Chernobyl

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