30 years after Chernobyl, camera study reveals wildlife abundance in CEZ

30 years after Chernobyl, UGA camera study reveals wildlife abundance in CEZ
A pack of wolves visits a scent station in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The photograph was taken by one of the remote camera stations and was triggered by the wolves' movement. Credit: National Geographic/Jim Beasley/Sarah Webster

Thirty years ago, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, became the site of the world's largest nuclear accident. While humans are now scarce in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, continued studies—including a just-published camera study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory—validate findings that wildlife populations are abundant at the site.

The camera study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and led by UGA's James Beasley, is the first remote-camera scent-station survey conducted within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, or CEZ. The study's results document species prevalent in the zone and support earlier findings that animal distribution is not influenced by radiation levels.

The restricted CEZ encompasses the bordering lands of Ukraine and Belarus impacted by radiation fallout from the accident, which occurred April 26, 1986.

Within the southern portion of Belarus is the Polessye, or Polesie State Radiation Ecological Reserve, with over 834 square miles of diverse landscape including forests and deserted developed lands. The levels of radiation vary significantly across this landscape.

The previous study, published in fall 2015, determined populations were thriving in the CEZ by counting animal tracks. Beasley and his research team used a more contemporary research method—remote camera stations—to substantiate previous findings.

"The earlier study shed light on the status of wildlife populations in the CEZ, but we still needed to back that up," said Beasley, an assistant professor with UGA's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the senior author on the study. "For this study we deployed cameras in a systematic way across the entire Belarus section of the CEZ and captured photographic evidence—strong evidence—because these are pictures that everyone can see."

The study was conducted over a five-week period at 94 sites using 30 cameras. A remote camera was set up on a tree or tree-like structure for seven days at each location. Each station was equipped with a fatty acid scent to attract the animals.

Sarah Webster, a graduate student at SREL and Warnell working with Beasley, set up the stations approximately 2 miles apart to prevent animals from visiting more than one station during a 24-hour period.

The team documented every species captured on the cameras and the frequency of their visits, specifically focusing on carnivores, Webster said, because of their hierarchy on the food chain.

At the top of the food chain, carnivores have an increased opportunity to receive contamination. In addition to ingesting it from prey that have foraged on the landscape, they receive it directly from the environment—through the soil, water and air.

"Carnivores are often in higher trophic levels of ecosystem food webs, so they are susceptible to bioaccumulation of contaminants," Webster said. "Few studies in Chernobyl have investigated effects of contamination level on populations of species in high trophic levels."

Beasley and his research team saw 14 species of mammals on the camera footage. The most frequently seen were the gray wolf, wild or Eurasian boar, red fox and raccoon dog, a canid species found in East Asia and Europe. Beasley said all of these species were sighted at stations close to or within the most highly contaminated areas.

"We didn't find any evidence to support the idea that populations are suppressed in highly contaminated areas," Beasley said. "What we did find was these animals were more likely to be found in areas of preferred habitat that have the things they need—food and water."

Webster said locations were chosen to ensure habitat variance and to incorporate the diverse levels of radiation in the zone.

The study provides much needed verification, Beasley said, but further studies are needed "to determine the density of wildlife and provide quantitative survival rates."

Explore further

At site of world's worst nuclear disaster, the animals have returned

More information: Sarah C Webster et al. Where the wild things are: influence of radiation on the distribution of four mammalian species within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (2016). DOI: 10.1002/fee.1227
Citation: 30 years after Chernobyl, camera study reveals wildlife abundance in CEZ (2016, April 18) retrieved 22 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-04-years-chernobyl-camera-reveals-wildlife.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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User comments

Apr 19, 2016
So, in short therms, humans do more harm to the life diversity than nuclear radiation.

Apr 19, 2016
We will not have to abandon 800 square miles of Altamont Pass if we have a wind turbine problem, will we?

Apr 19, 2016
One reason SMUD closed their expensive nuclear powerplant Rancho Seco was the worry that a meltdown could ruin the entire Central Valley of California, and put an end to agriculture there.

They put in PV systems on the site.

Apr 19, 2016
i thought everything was dying, mutated or dead in Chernobyl, @Couyon-kam-liar??

which is more dangerous, liar-kam? flying at 33,000ft or standing within 6 meters of a nuclear reactor?

lets not forget the universe and earth itself is "radioactive"

Flying on a plane and next to a reactor measured


more important reality to remember:





Apr 19, 2016
Thank you for exposing the dangers of Wiki.

What do your "experts" say about the possibilities of Chernobyl or Fukushima?

Apr 19, 2016
which is more dangerous, liar-kam?

That is one possibility.

flying at 33,000ft

Well that makes it a an easy choice so far. I don't really like to fly so much but it don't really worry me.

or standing within 6 meters of a nuclear reactor?
Choot, they find guys a lot smarter than glam-Skippy or even me to do that all day every day, wouldn't worry me non.

lets not forget the universe and earth itself is "radioactive"
Well it would not do any good for me to worry about that, nothing we can even do about it unless we want to walk around wearing space suits.

So I can choose:

1) liar-glam-Skippy or ,
2) flying on the airplane or,
3) hanging out in a nuclear control room or,
4) living in the universe.

to be most dangerous, eh? I pick couyons like glam-Skippy, they are pretty dangerous, especially since he claims he wants to "teach the young" so they won't use the Wiki.

Apr 20, 2016
the dangers of Wiki.

so... you cant tell the difference between youtube and wiki?

now that is hilarious!

of course, i didn't think you could answer that question, given your past demonstrations of "power engineering" knowledge to DaSchneib, where he proved you were either lying or completely inept here:

thanks for demonstrating why it is important to ask for validation of information ... and to force sociopathic psychopaths like you to actually provide evidence for their claims

I am not going to respond to your continued attention whoring, so by all means, flood away with your inept sharing

enjoy, Couyon-liar-troll

Apr 20, 2016
Grumpy is angry because we are correct about Chernobyl and Fukushima, and he can only read about it, not having any experience in the field at all.

He reads the stuff by the nuke industry, the one which promised us meltdowns were impossible. And he BELIEVES what he reads!!!

We have had FIVE at least, if you do not count SL-1.

But you keep on being fooled, like with "WMD!", the sucker-finder.

Inexperience in life does that, folks. It makes you look like a Stumpy.

Apr 20, 2016

Three Mile Island


Fukushima (three units!)

Yet, the Wiki-wonders here still believe the nukers who say it is impossible to happen, and throw little nuggets at me like those numbers.

Go ahead, Trumpy, dig up that fool's gold.

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