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Ecological mechanisms can modify radiation effects in a key forest mammal of Chernobyl

Mappes, Tapio, Boratyński, Zbyszek, Kivisaari, Kati, Lavrinienko, Anton, Milinevsky, Gennadi, Mousseau, Timothy A., Møller, Anders P., Tukalenko, Eugene, Watts, Phillip C.
Ecosphere 2019 v.10 no.4 pp. e02667
Clethrionomys glareolus, accidents, ecosystems, forests, ionizing radiation, irradiation, reproductive success, rodents, Ukraine
Nuclear accidents underpin the need to quantify the ecological mechanisms which determine injury to ecosystems from chronic low‐dose radiation. Here, we tested the hypothesis that ecological mechanisms interact with ionizing radiation to affect natural populations in unexpected ways. We used large‐scale replicated experiments and food manipulations in wild populations of the rodent, Myodes glareolus, inhabiting the region near the site of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. We show linear decreases in breeding success with increasing ambient radiation levels with no evidence of any threshold below which effects are not seen. Food supplementation of experimental populations resulted in increased abundances but only in locations where radioactive contamination was low (i.e., below ≈ 1 μSv/h). In areas with higher contamination, food supplementation showed no detectable effects. These findings suggest that chronic low‐dose‐rate irradiation can decrease the stability of populations of key forest species, and these effects could potentially scale to broader community changes with concomitant consequences for the ecosystem functioning of forests impacted by nuclear accidents.