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Earth Science

Chernobyl Area Survey Finds Lasting Problems For Wildlife 201

Posted by timothy
from the click-click-clickclickclickclick dept.
ninguna writes "The largest wildlife census of its kind conducted in Chernobyl has revealed that mammals are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant. While some stories seem to indicate nature is recovering, the actual picture isn't quite so great."
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Chernobyl Area Survey Finds Lasting Problems For Wildlife

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:02PM (#33105314)

    The last line of TFA answers you pretty well

    Professor Mousseau said: "If society is ever to learn more about the long term environmental consequences of large scale accidents - and Chernobyl is just one of several - it is important that we all take our responsibilities seriously."

    In other words, we're not sure (yet).

  • Humans & Mammals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EEPROMS (889169) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:12PM (#33105408)
    I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.
  • by Toonol (1057698) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:20PM (#33105464)
    It seems I was right.

    Maybe. Or, perhaps an article was published that is closer to your preconceived notions, and so you're giving it more weight.

    At this point, doubting both claims is probably the smart thing to do.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:36PM (#33105974)
    People hold a supernatural fear of the area plagued by a man-made disaster? Isn't superstition meant for the things that are unexplainable? Suddenly, modern religion practitioners make sense to me.
  • by khallow (566160) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:02PM (#33106142)

    This isn't a chicken-and-egg problem. Scavengers existed before humans evolved.

    Given that it is wholly irrelevant to the original post, I wonder why you brought it up. Let's read the original post again:

    I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

    Is EEPROMS claiming that Chernobyl or prior human habitation responsible for evolving foxes, badgers, etc? No. What he is noting is that humans generate a lot of waste that opportunist scavengers (I use the term loosely since most such animals have several niches that they can inhabit), or sometimes their prey, eat. It is implied here that there is less food available for these mammals now that humans aren't around. That's a reasonable assertion to make since farmland in particular generates a lot more edible waste than wilderness (after all, you're deliberately growing food while you aren't in the latter case).

    It's reasonable to me that it'd take a few decades for farmland to revert to mostly non-food producing vegetation (especially given that early colonizing plants like grasses, berry plants, etc tend to be good for herbivores and omnivores to eat as well as the residual farm crops). So we could see (IMHO would likely see) a decline in mammals just due to the reforestation of farmland.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:28PM (#33106304) Homepage Journal

        It's inhabitable now. Is it safe? Not really. You won't turn green and melt into a puddle of goo, nor grow extra limb, but there will likely be side effects.

        I don't quite agree with the method of "count how many animals there are". That is fine if the effect happens rapidly. If a mating pair of animals are able to grow to maturity and reproduce at least twice, the population will remain constant. If they produce 3 or more, the population will grow. It doesn't necessarily account for animals coming into the area from other areas. Since there are no humans there to disturb them and/or limit the population (hunting, vehicular accidents, and pruning of the population), the population should reach it's natural density based on the available resources (food and water), and be limited by natural predators. At natural densities, the populations will fluctuate. They also cannot observe the entire area. I'm not surprised the numbers would drop. Wild animals tend to not like humans and will stay away.

        Through similar observations, I could come to some wild conclusions. I live in Florida. We have a decent alligator population here. I haven't seen one in the wild in over 20 years. We also have wild coyotes that have been spotted since the 1970's. I've never seen one, but I've heard them howling, and could hear up to three distinct animals at the same time. So I could report that the alligator population has disappeared, and the coyote population is approximately 3. That would be completely wrong though.

        Humans (homo sapiens) are easier to account for. They tend to follow common trails for hunting, gathering, and other social interactions. These trails are very obvious in comparison to any other animal. Humans have many pack tendencies. They tend to live with moderate to large numbers in common shelters, natural or otherwise. They tend to leave quite a bit of evidence of where they've been, more so than other animals, as they do not seem to concern themselves with predators. Be concerned if you approach a human or group of humans. They can become very aggressive towards unfamiliar animals, even if they are of the same species. There have been many noted examples where humans of different coloration or decoration can be attacked with little or no provocation.

        Through my recent observations, I can number the human population to be not more than a few thousand.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:59PM (#33106494) Homepage

    The article leaves me feeling not very enlightened.

    When the Chernobyl disaster happened, two changes were made simultaneously to the local ecosystem: (1) There was radioactive crud spread around. (2) Humans left the area.

    It's fairly obvious that #2 should have a huge positive effect on many species. Having humans turn habitat into a city, and then drive around it incessantly in cars, is the worst thing that can possibly happen to any plant or animal's habitat. (Of course there might be a few exceptions, like mice and cockroaches, or plants that benefit from artificial irrigation, or certain plant species that tend to thrive in disturbed areas like road cuts.)

    Effect #1, radiation, could be either positive or negative. A wide variety of data shows that low levels of radiation are beneficial to almost all living things, until you get to a certain dose at which the net effect starts to become negative. This is called radiation hormesis. Surprisingly, there is even a radiation hormesis effect on reproduction. That is, organisms like mice and fish actually produce more, healthier offspring when they're exposed to small doses of radiation. Radiation doses at Chernobyl are not uniform. You can look at contour maps that show how much radiation there is in different places. The dose is much, much higher when you're closer to the ruined plant. So roughly speaking, I'd imagine that some organisms a little farther out from the site would benefit from hormesis, while others closer in would be harmed. In any case, I would expect #1, radiation, to be a much, much weaker effect than #2, removing people.

    The article makes it sound like they just tried to do surveys and evaluate biodiversity, and different people are getting different answers about whether biodiversity is up or down. Seems to me that this tells us absolutely nothing. If biodiversity has increased, it could be because effect #2 is extremely powerful, outweighing significant harm from #1. Or it could be that both #1 and #2 are positive (you get a net hormesis effect). If biodiversity is down, I'm still not sure it tells me anything. Maybe it just means that #2 is negative, for some counterintuitive reason. After all, you kick an ecosystem like crazy (by evacuating all the people), and it's not necessarily easy to tell what will happen. Maybe eliminating humans made it a better environment for predators, which made it a worse environment for prey animals. Maybe eliminating humans allowed a small number of weed species to take over instead of a larger number of ornamental and cultivated plants.

  • by avgapon (1851536) on Monday August 02, 2010 @11:39AM (#33110970)
    it's Ukraine, no "the"

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