Abundance and genetic damage of barn swallows from Fukushima

A. Bonisoli-Alquati, K. Koyama, D. J. Tedeschi, W. Kitamura, H. Sukuzi, S. Ostermiller, E. Arai, A. P. Møller & T. A. Mousseau

Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 9432 doi:10.1038/srep09432
Received 19 May 2014 Accepted 05 February 2015 Published 02 April 2015

A number of studies have assessed or modeled the distribution of the radionuclides released by the accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP). Few studies however have investigated its consequences for the local biota. We tested whether exposure of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nestlings to low dose ionizing radiation increased genetic damage to their peripheral erythrocytes. We estimated external radiation exposure by using thermoluminescent dosimeters, and by measuring radioactivity of the nest material. We then assessed DNA damage by means of the neutral comet assay. In addition, we conducted standard point-count censuses of barn swallows across environmental radiation levels, and estimated their abundance and local age ratio. Radioactivity of nest samples was in the range 479–143,349 Bq kg−1, while external exposure varied between 0.15 and 4.9 mGy. Exposure to radioactive contamination did not correlate with higher genetic damage in nestlings. However, at higher levels of radioactive contamination the number of barn swallows declined and the fraction of juveniles decreased, indicating lower survival and lower reproduction and/or fledging rate. Thus, genetic damage to nestlings does not explain the decline of barn swallows in contaminated areas, and a proximate mechanism for the demographic effects documented here remains to be clarified.