Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains, Shorter Lives

chernobyl ferris wheel photo

An abandoned ferris wheel in Pripyat, Ukraine, near the Chernobyl disaster site. Photo credit: Andrzej KaroĊ„/Creative Commons

Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl disaster, research is showing that prolonged exposure to the remaining low-dose radiation has a serious impact on wildlife in the region.

New research has found that birds living near Chernobyl have, on average, a brain 5 percent smaller than other birds of their species.Smaller brain sizes in birds have been linked to reduced cognitive ability. Moreover, the brain is typically the last organ to be reduced in stressed animals, suggesting that the birds have greater weaknesses elsewhere in their bodies.

Timothy Mousseau, a University of South Carolina biologist who authored the study, explains:

These findings point to broad-scale neurological effects of chronic exposure to low-dose radiation...the fact that we see this pattern for a large portion of the bird community suggests a general phenomenon that may have significant long-term repercussions.

The study looked at 550 birds from 48 different species, all found in the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl site. The most alarming finding was that smaller brains were most commonly present in the youngest birds. This implies that these birds are not surviving long enough to reproduce.

The impact of radiation in the area is not, of course, limited to just birds. Recent studies have found that children in northern Ukraine have higher rates of certain neurological disorders than other children in uncontaminated regions of the Ukraine and Europe.

5 more minutes on Chernobyl:
Chernobyl: Wildlife Haven or a Dangerous Wasteland?
Real World Half-Life: Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Still Harming Animals
8 Worst Man-made Environmental Disasters of All Time

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