Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 150, Issue 1, pp 239–246 | Cite as

Reduced abundance of raptors in radioactively contaminated areas near Chernobyl

  • Anders Pape MøllerEmail author
  • Timothy A. Mousseau
Original Article


The negative ecological effects of radioactive contamination around Chernobyl have recently been suggested to be moderate and declining because of an increasing number of anecdotal observations of several species of rare animals including predators. However, these claims were not based on empirical evidence. Radionuclides show bio-accumulation with trophic level, and the abundance of birds is depressed in radioactively contaminated areas around Chernobyl. Therefore, we predicted that birds of prey should be less abundant with increasing levels of radiation. Here, we use our long-term field data from 1991 to 2007 in three different analyses based on observations of raptors using standardized point counts, censuses during capture of barn swallows Hirundo rustica that habitually give alarm calls when a raptor is present, and line transects while driving on roads. Analyses suggest that the abundance of birds of prey is reduced in contaminated areas, and that there is evidence of a recent increase in abundance of raptors in less contaminated areas, but not in the most contaminated ones. Our findings suggest that birds of prey that are top level consumers in ecosystems suffer from reduced abundance in radioactively contaminated areas.


Birds of prey Predators Radiation at Chernobyl Trophic level 



We are grateful for logistic help during our visits to Ukraine and Belarus from O. Bondarenko, M. Bondarkov, I. Chizhevsky, S. Gaschak, E. Konoplya, A. Litvinchuk, G. Milinevski, A. M. Peklo, E. Pysanets, and N. Saino. We received funding from The Natural Science Faculty, Uppsala University, the Swedish Natural Science Research Council, the CNRS (France), the University of South Carolina School of the Environment, Bill Murray, and the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, the National Science Foundation, and National Geographic Society to conduct our research.


  1. Bibby CJ, Hill DA, Burgess ND, Mustoe S (2005) Bird census techniques. Academic Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Chernobyl Forum (2005a) Chernobyl’s legacy: health, environmental and socio-economic impacts. IAEA, WHO, UNDP, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Chernobyl Forum (2005b) Chernobyl: The true scale of the accident. 20 years later a UN report provides definitive answers and ways to repair lives. IAEA, WHO, UNDP, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Grell MB (1998) Fuglenes Danmark. Gad, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  5. Kryshev I, Alexakhin R, Makhonko K (1992) Radioecological consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Nuclear Society, MoscowGoogle Scholar
  6. Kryshev II, Ryabov IN (1990) About the efficiency of trophic level in the accumulation of Cs-137 in fish of the Chernobyl NPP cooling pond. In: Ryabov IN, Ryabtsev IA (eds) Biological and radioecological aspects of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow, pp 116–121Google Scholar
  7. Møller AP (1983) Methods for monitoring bird populations in the Nordic countries. Nordic Council of Ministers, OsloGoogle Scholar
  8. Møller AP (1987) Advantages and disadvantages of coloniality in the swallow Hirundo rustica. Anim Behav 35:819–832. doi: 10.1016/S0003-3472(87)80118-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Møller AP, Mousseau TA (2006) Biological consequences of Chernobyl: 20 years after the disaster. Trends Ecol Evol 21:200–207. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2006.01.008 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Møller AP, Mousseau TA (2007a) Birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity in Chernobyl. Proc R Soc Lond B 274:1443–1448. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Møller AP, Mousseau TA (2007b) Determinants of interspecific variation in population declines of birds from exposure to radiation at Chernobyl. J Appl Ecol 44:909–919. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2007.01353.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Møller AP, Mousseau TA (2007c) Species richness and abundance of forest birds in relation to radiation at Chernobyl. Biol Lett 3:483–486. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0226 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Møller AP, Mousseau TA, Milinevsky G, Peklo A, Pysanets E, Szép T (2005a) Condition, reproduction and survival of barn swallows from Chernobyl. J Anim Ecol 74:1102–1111. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2005.01009.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Møller AP, Surai PF, Mousseau TA (2005b) Antioxidants, radiation and mutation in barn swallows from Chernobyl. Proc R Soc Lond B 272:247–253. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2914 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Møller AP, Hobson KA, Mousseau TA, Peklo AM (2006) Chernobyl as a population sink for barn swallows: tracking dispersal using stable isotope profiles. Ecol Appl 16:1696–1705. doi: 10.1890/1051-0761(2006)016[1696:CAAPSF]2.0.CO;2 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mycio M (2005) Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl. Joseph Henry Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  17. Newton I (1986) The sparrowhawk. Poyser, BerkhamsteadGoogle Scholar
  18. Rosenthal E (2005) Chernobyl’s dangers called far exaggerated. International Herald Tribune, 6 September 2005Google Scholar
  19. SAS Institute Inc (2000) JMP. SAS Institute, CaryGoogle Scholar
  20. Shestopalov VM (1996) Atlas of Chernobyl exclusion zone. Ukrainian Academy of Science, KievGoogle Scholar
  21. Smith MH, Oleksyk TK, Tsyusko O (2002) Effects of trophic position and ecosystem type on the form of the frequency distribution of radiocesium at Chornobyl and nuclear sites in the United States. In: Proceedings of the international symposium: transfer of radionuclides in biosphere: prediction and assessment, 18–19 December 2002, Mito, Japan, pp 37–48Google Scholar
  22. Stephan V (2005) Chernobyl: poverty and stress pose ‘bigger threat’ than radiation. Nature 437:181. doi: 10.1038/437181b PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group “Environment” (2005) Environmental consequences of the Chernobyl accident and their remediation: twenty years of experience. IAEA, WHO, UNDP, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Voitovich AM, Afonin VY (2002) DNA damages and radionuclide accumulation in wild small vertebrates. In: Environmental radioactivity in the Arctic and Antarctic, Proceedings of the 5th international conference, St Petersburg, 16–20 June 2002, Russia, pp 340–343Google Scholar
  25. Yakushev BI, Budkevich TA, Zabolotny AI, Mironov VP, Kudryashov VP (1999) Contamination of vegetation in Belarus by transuranium radionuclides due to Chernobyl NPP accident. In: Goossens LHJ (ed) Proceedings of the 9th annual conference “Risk analysis: facing the new millennium”, 10–13 October 1999. Delft University Press, Rotterdam, pp 841–844Google Scholar
  26. Zakharov VM, Krysanov EY (eds) (1996) Consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe: environmental health. Center for Russian Environmental Policy, MoscowGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations