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Evidence of long-distance dispersal of a gray wolf from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is a ~ 4300 km2 area in Belarus and Ukraine that remains heavily contaminated with radiation from the nuclear accident of 1986. Long standing controversy persists on the fate of wildlife within the CEZ following human abandonment of the area. Human residency remains extremely sparse, and the CEZ has become a refuge for some populations of wildlife, including gray wolves (Canis lupus). Using GPS telemetry, we documented the first long-distance movements of a young (1–2 years) male wolf from the CEZ into the surrounding landscape. The wolf traveled 369 km from its home range center over a 21-day period in February 2015. In the 95 days prior to dispersal, the wolf maintained a home range of ~ 28 km2, with daily displacements rarely exceeding 5 km. With the onset of dispersal, daily displacement increased to a mean of 16.8 km. The dispersal of a young wolf is an important observation because it suggests that the CEZ may serve as a source for some wildlife populations outside of the CEZ, and raises questions about the potential spread of radiation-induced genetic mutations to populations in uncontaminated areas.

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We thank P.M. Kudan, Y. Bondar, S. Kutschmel, S. Smalovski, and the staff at the PSRER for their assistance, and I. Filipkova and A. Bundtzen for their invaluable knowledge and hard work with this research.


Funding was provided by the US Department of Energy (Award NumberDE-FC09-07SR22506 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation), the National Geographic Society, the Institut de Radioprotection et de Suˆrete Nucleaire, and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Byrne.

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Byrne, M.E., Webster, S.C., Lance, S.L. et al. Evidence of long-distance dispersal of a gray wolf from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Eur J Wildl Res 64, 39 (2018).

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