Forests Around Chernobyl Aren't Decaying Properly
(Smithsonian Magazine) – Nearly 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl plant
exploded and caused an unprecedented nuclear disaster. The effects of
that catastrophe, however, are still felt today. Although no people live
in the extensive exclusion zones around the epicenter, animals and
plants still show signs of radiation poisoning.
|Strange Small-Brained Bird|
Birds around Chernobyl have significantly smaller brains that those living in non-radiation poisoned areas; trees there grow slower; and fewer spiders and insects—including bees, butterflies and grasshoppers—live there. Additionally, game animals such as wild boar caught outside of the exclusion zone—including some bagged as far away as Germany—continue to show abnormal and dangerous levels of radiation.
However, there are even more fundamental issues going on in the environment. According to a new study published in Oecologia, decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil. Issues with such a basic-level process, the authors of the study think, could have compounding effects for the entire ecosystem.