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Birds living in Chernobyl's shadow are adapting to the radiation, say scientists


The exclusion zone surrounding what remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is usually thought to be an environmental disaster zone, but new research suggests birds living might actually be benefitting from the radiation.

A study published in the journal Functional Ecological has found evidence that wild animals in the zone are adapting to the ionising radiation, with some even showing increased levels of antioxidants and reduced DNA damage.

Scientist have previously found that humans and other animals can adapt to radiation over prolonged exposure at low doses,  but this adaptation has never before been seen in wold populations.

The study, led by Dr Ismael Galván of the Spanish National Research Council, focused on eight sites in and around the 30km-wide exclusion zone since the 1990s, capturing 152 birds from 16 different species.

A hawfinch from the exclusion zone is held by a research. Credit: T.A. Mousseau and A.P. Møller, 2011

At each site, the background radiation was measured and feather and blood samples were taken from the birds. They primarily measured antioxidant levels, DNA damage in blood samples and melanin levels in feathers.

"The findings are important because they tell us more about the different species' ability to adapt to environmental challenges such as Chernobyl and Fukushima," said Dr Galván.

"Previous studies of wildlife at Chernobyl showed that chronic radiation exposure depleted antioxidants and increased oxidative damage. We found the opposite – that antioxidant levels increased and oxidative stress decreased with increasing background radiation."