Is there life outside Chernobyl’s radioactive zone? Ecologist talks research from trip

Matt Bubala

Mike Byrne and a tranquilized Chernobyl wolf wearing a GPS collar. (Mike Byrne)

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Mike Byrne, assistant professor at the University of Missouri for the School of Natural Resources visited Chernobyl in the fall of 2014. His research from the trip is now being published. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 is referred to one of the biggest catastrophic nuclear accidents in history. After the explosion, residents were immediately evacuated.  There is an 18.6 mile radius exclusion zone where people are not allowed to live. He describes Chernobyl as a scene from the Walking Dead. Most of the abandoned houses have trees growing in them or have now become habitats for animals. As he walked through some of the villages, he noticed that some of the homes still had coats hung up and old food in the kitchen. For an area that is still dangerous to humans, animals have somehow flourished. Byrne went to Chernobyl to initially study animal distribution with an emphasis on wolves. His team was able to put GPS collars on the wolves that accumulated radiation levels over time and GPS points of the wolves that had updated data every 35 minutes. “We were trying to map out the track of the wolf and see what it was exposed to and overlay the map of the radiation layer. We wanted to see if that technology actually worked out,” Byrne says. His research concluded that the radiation didn’t really impact the distribution of the animals. As far as offspring, not a lot of evidence proves that that there are mutations. Byrne says that the animal population is high and they all seem healthy, “so it’s an interesting dichotomy.” Byrne says that the radiation levels are consistently in a low dose, so the animals may have built up an immunity.













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