YOU LIKE TO NAME A WILD WOLF?
do scientists determine what the long-term impacts would be to humans
living in a radiation-contaminated environment? An ecological study
of wolves in the Ukraine may provide the answer.
have heard of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which occurred in the
Soviet Union in 1986. A reactor exploded, killing more than 30 workers
and radioactively contaminating a vast region of Europe and Asia. The
landmark nuclear event resulted in the complete evacuation of more than
100,000 people from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, an area of about 1,000
square miles. Ironically, the habitats abandoned by humans became ideal
for certain wildlife species that no longer faced their most serious
threat to survival people. Included among the beneficiaries of
the Chernobyl tragedy was one of the largest and most effective predators
in the Northern Hemisphere--the gray wolf.
shot, trapped, or indirectly affected by humans is the upside for wolves
occupying the CEZ. But what complications might they face from chronic
exposure to radiation in the food they eat and where they sleep? Drs.
Jim Beasley and Stacey Lance, research ecologists from the University
of Georgias Savannah River Ecology Lab, say that whereas radiation
concentrations immediately after the accident were known to be extremely
high and dangerous, we dont know what levels of radiation the
wolves or other animals are exposed to now. The researchers and
their students are trained to study how human activities and disturbances
affect the ecology of wildlife populations.
wolves can serve as a proxy for determining the risks to human safety
in low-level radiation areas. Among the questions being asked are whether
cancer rates in the wolves are above normal levels, which can be determined
indirectly with genetic studies. The researchers will also estimate
wolf population sizes and distribution patterns across a gradient from
high to low levels of contamination to look for demographic impacts.
The findings can be applied to how humans might be affected.
disruption is often obvious, and the consequences for wildlife are highly
predictable. But the CEZ presents a new challenge because the source
of the problem is invisible. How can researchers determine how much
radiation the wolves are exposed to? Equating exposure levels of wildlife
to potential health effects is critical for predicting the extent of
the problem. Beasley says, If the health effects are bad enough,
the CEZ could become an ecological trap, meaning wolves and other wildlife
move into the landscape, but their survival and reproduction [are] lower
than that of healthy populations. Such a scenario could have a
negative impact not only on wildlife within the CEZ but also in the
the scientists catch wolves, track where they roam, and determine their
exposure to radiation? The researchers have developed a novel technology
that will allow them not only to track wolves but also to continually
measure radiation exposure levels. Live trapping, fitting the animals
with radio collars, and using wildlife cameras are techniques used for
decades by biologists to reveal movement patterns of wildlife. But what
about the radiation measurements? To solve that problem, the researchers
have combined GPS radio collars with a dosimeter, a small device that
measures the radiation dose an individual has received. Every half hour
a wolfs location and its exposure to radiation are recorded.
want to find out more about how wildlife biologists study wolves and
see lots of great photos, check out the Chernobyl Wolves Research Project
website (http://bit.ly/RadWolves). You can also make a contribution
to help fund the research. Visitors to the website can sign up to receive
regular updates on the movement patterns of the CEZ wolves, including
maps showing where each one with a collar is going each day. Once a
wolf has a collar, it will be identified by a name chosen from those
suggested by website visitors. If youve ever wanted to name a
wild wolf, heres your chance.
you have an environmental question or comment, email