The Exclusion Zone at Chernobyl covers an area of approximately 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi) immediately surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where radioactive contamination from nuclear fallout is highest and public access and inhabitation are restricted.
Despite that, life has found a way.
A new study has found that Wildlife is proliferating in abundance in the area that has been off limits since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
As explained by James Beasley, associate professor at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, scientists spotted ten mammal species and five species of birds during their one-month photo-hunting session at Chernobyl.
“These animals were photographed while scavenging fish carcasses placed on the shoreline of rivers and canals in the CEZ,” he said.
“We’ve seen evidence of a diversity of wildlife in the CEZ through our previous research, but this is the first time that we’ve seen white-tailed eagles, American mink and river otter on our cameras.”
The previous evidence Beasley was referring to come from a 2015 study that showed how wildlife—including Gray Wolves—exist in abundance in the exclusion zone.
The results of the new study were published in the journal Food Webs, and provide ample evidence how aquatic nutrient resources can flow to terrestrial landscapes where they become available to both terrestrial and semiaquatic wildlife in the region, like otter and mink, explains UGA.
Lead researcher Peter Schlichting said in a statement that previous studies have reported that waste collection activity can connect several food webs, but scientists do not fully understand how this happens.
In the current study, fish tanks were placed on the edge of the open water in the Pripyat River and in nearby irrigation canals, mimicking the natural activity that occurs when streams transport dead fish carcasses to the coast, according to Schlichting, who is now an associate of postdoctoral research at Arizona State University.
Surprisingly, the results of the study have shown that 98% of fish placed by experts were consumed in a week by a multitude of scavengers from the region.
“This is a high rate of scavenging, and given that all our carcasses were consumed by terrestrial or semi-aquatic species, it verifies that the movement of nutritional resources between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems occurs more frequently than often recognized, ” Beasley explained.
“We tend to think of fish and other aquatic animals as staying in the aquatic ecosystem. This research shows us that if a reasonable proportion of dead fish make it to shore, there is an entire group of terrestrial and semi-aquatic species that transfer those aquatic nutrients to the terrestrial landscape. “