Genetic and Ecological Studies of Animals in Chernobyl and Fukushima

Timothy A. Mousseau and Anders P. Møller

From the Department of Biological Sciences and the Environment and Sustainability Program, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (Mousseau); and the Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment, Orsay Cedex, France (Møller).

Address correspondence to Timothy A. Mousseau at the address above, or e-mail:

Received February 21, 2014.
Revision received March 20, 2014.
Accepted June 2, 2014.


Recent advances in genetic and ecological studies of wild animal populations in Chernobyl and Fukushima have demonstrated significant genetic, physiological, developmental, and fitness effects stemming from exposure to radioactive contaminants. The few genetic studies that have been conducted in Chernobyl generally show elevated rates of genetic damage and mutation rates. All major taxonomic groups investigated (i.e., birds, bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders, mammals) displayed reduced population sizes in highly radioactive parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In Fukushima, population censuses of birds, butterflies, and cicadas suggested that abundances were negatively impacted by exposure to radioactive contaminants, while other groups (e.g., dragonflies, grasshoppers, bees, spiders) showed no significant declines, at least during the first summer following the disaster. Insufficient information exists for groups other than insects and birds to assess effects on life history at this time. The differences observed between Fukushima and Chernobyl may reflect the different times of exposure and the significance of multigenerational mutation accumulation in Chernobyl compared to Fukushima. There was considerable variation among taxa in their apparent sensitivity to radiation and this reflects in part life history, physiology, behavior, and evolutionary history. Interestingly, for birds, population declines in Chernobyl can be predicted by historical mitochondrial DNA base-pair substitution rates that may reflect intrinsic DNA repair ability.