Chernobyl's radioactivity reduced the populations of birds of orange plumage

Apr 26, 2011
Bird populations fell as the levels of radiation in peripheral zones of Chernobyl (Ukraine) rose. Credit: Rafael Palomo Santana

On April 26, 1986, history's greatest nuclear accident took place northwest of the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl. Despite the scale of the disaster, 25 years later, we still do not know its real effects. An international team of investigators has shown for the first time that the colour of birds' plumage may make them more vulnerable to radioactivity.

Radiation causes oxidative stress, damages biological molecules and may have "important" negative effects on organisms in relatively high doses, like those found in certain zones close to Chernobyl.

"In the case of the studied, these effects were seen in the size of their populations", says Ismael Galván, lead author of the study and researcher in the Laboratory of Ecology, Systematics and Evolution at the University of Paris-Sur, in France, speaking to SINC.

According to the study, which has been published in the journal Oecologia, bird populations fell as the levels of radiation in peripheral zones of Chernobyl (Ukraine) rose. In total, the researchers analysed the abundance of 97 bird exposed to different levels of radiation during four years.

In the majority of the birds (64 species), the populations diminished with the level or radioactivity. "Nevertheless, the populations of a few species (the 33 remaining species) experienced positive effects from the radiation (though the magnitude of these effects was very low in some cases), perhaps due to the reduction in competition with other species", explains Galván.

Colour: a bird's weak or strong point

The scientists concentrated on the colouring generated by melanins – pigments which protect from ultraviolet radiation and generate camouflage patterns – of the nearly one hundred species of bird studied. The reason: the type of pigmentation may interfere with the ability to resist radioactivity's negative effects.

"The impact on the populations depends, at least in part, on the amount of plumage whose colouring is generated by pheomelanin, one of the two main types of melanins, which produces orangish and brownish colours", the Spanish expert adds.

The birds of with the most pheomelanism (with the most plumage coloured by pheomelanin) were judged to be the "most negatively" affected by the radioactivity. As the pigment consumes glutathione (one of the antioxidants most susceptible to radiation and whose level tends to be diminished by its effects), in these birds, the capacity to combat the oxidative stress generated by "probably" diminishes.

Explore further: Australian brush-turkey eggs inspire ideas for germ-resistant coatings

More information: Galván, Ismael; Mousseau, Timothy A.; Moller, Anders P. "Bird population declines due to radiation exposure at Chernobyl are stronger in species with pheomelanin-based coloration" Oecologia 165(4): 827-835, April 2011.

Provided by FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Brightly colored birds most affected by Chernobyl radiation

Jul 11, 2007

Brightly coloured birds are among the species most adversely affected by the high levels of radiation around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, ecologists have discovered. The findings – published online in the British Ecological ...

Less radiation damage in Chernobyl lakes than feared

Apr 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study of the lakes in and around Chernobyl's fallout zone reveals that radiation from the nuclear accident appears to have had no long term effect on the abundance or diversity of aquatic animal life.

Bird species are saved from extinction

Aug 28, 2006

The first global audit of threatened species shows 16 species of birds nearly extinct in the mid-1990s have been saved, some increasing tenfold in number.

Shake your tail feather: Sexual signaling in birds

Sep 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Patterned feathers, previously thought to be used only for camouflage in birds, can play an important role in attracting a mate and fending off rivals, a University of Melbourne study reveals.

Recommended for you

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

11 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

Love-shy panda artificially inseminated

21 hours ago

Britain's only female giant panda, Tian Tian, has been artificially inseminated after failing to mate with her male partner Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo said Tuesday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...