Since the 1990s, researchers have captured and examined 16 different bird species and measured for radiation levels, oxidative stress and DNA damage.
They also checked levels of pigments in the feathers and found that birds with the most red pigments had the greatest problems in coping with radiation.
The findings were published in the British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology.
“Previous studies of wildlife at Chernobyl showed that chronic radiation exposure depleted antioxidants and increased oxidative damage,” said lead author Ismael Galván. “We found the opposite — that antioxidant levels increased and oxidative stress decreased with increasing background radiation.”
The Chernobyl disaster occurred just over 28 years ago in northern Ukraine, contaminating a wide area of Europe and forcing authorities to establish an exclusion zone around the wrecked nuclear plant.
But it has also provided a working laboratory for scientists to study how long-term radiation affects wild animals and plants.
Photo: T.A. Mousseau