Wed. Oct 27th, 2021


A coiled rat snake in Fukushima.

A coiled rat snake.
Pictures: Hannah Gerke

Fukushima has been wildlife Study deeply Since the tsunami and Nuclear disaster Hit the region a decade ago. But in a new study, scientists describe how wildlife is being listed to monitor the region.

A Paper Published this month in Ichthyology and Herpetology, the researchers sequenced how they placed snakes equipped with special equipment to measure radiation levels around Fukushima. Researchers have linked these results to their work Paper They revealed to Environment International last year that the radioactivity levels of snakes in Fukushima are related to the levels of radioactivity in the soil so that a better picture of how snakes respond to radioactivity in their environment is available.

It may seem strange to focus on snakes among all the animals in the Fukushima exclusion zone, or the 444-square-mile (1,150-square-kilometer) area around the FEZ-reactor where humans were evacuated after the disaster. But snakes are actually the perfect animal to talk about the overall health of an ecosystem in a region where scientists are still trying to figure out the long-term effects of the 2011 meldown and eruption.

“Snakes are often perceived in the case of other animals, but they are actually an important part of many ecosystems,” Hannah Gerke, lead author of the study and former research assistant at the University of Georgia, said in an email. “They can act as both predators and prey in food nets, which means they can collect contaminants from their prey and can also be a source of contaminants for other animals that eat them.”

What’s more, the main radionuclides in the Fukushima environment are fixed to the ground – which is where snakes roam most of the time. It can create high levels of pollutants and increase the amount of radiation from the soil, ”Gerke said. “We also knew that snakes weren’t as mobile as birds or large mammals, so we hoped it could have the same level of pollution as their surroundings.”

A Japanese rat snake is fitted with a GPS transmitter that will allow researchers to track its movements over the next few weeks.

A Japanese rat snake is fitted with a GPS transmitter that will allow researchers to track its movements over the next few weeks.
Pictures: Hannah Gerke

The first part of finding the exposure in the snake was to track where it was going inside the FEZ. Radiation is not consistent within the area, but varies depending on the type of habitat and terrain.

“Where an animal chooses to spend its time can have a significant impact on how much radiation it comes in contact with,” Gerke said.

To find out where the snakes were going, the team connected a GPS transmitter to nine rat snakes, a common species in Japan, which were later dropped off at a location 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the power station and monitored. For a month. The transmitters also had a small chip, called a dosimeter, which measures the total radiation dose of the snake during the tracking period. (This is the first time that dosimeters have been identified with wild snakes.)

Researchers observed snakes over a month-long period, logging more than 1,700 sites they visited. This has given researchers a lot of valuable information about the movements of snakes.

“We have found that snakes move relatively short distances and spend more time near streams and in trees and abandoned buildings.” However, we have also found large differences in the use of individual habitats between snakes, which can vary in radiation levels. .

Using data and research from the 2020 paper, the team estimated that at that time about 0% of snake radiation came from soil, trees and plants, and that about 20% came from contaminated food. Gerke said the data collected by the relatively small number of tagged snakes could be extracorporeal to predict for a larger population in the radioactive area. The jury still doesn’t decide what happens to snakes when they collect all the radiation – but since they are such useful biological indicators, Gerke said there is room for more research.

“Unfortunately, at the moment we don’t have much information about the effects of radiation on snakes,” he said. “Compared to other groups like mammals, we know very little about how chronic radiation affects reptiles or what levels are harmful to them. Our recent research is meant to draw attention to the lack of knowledge and provide a baseline that helps us determine what level of radiation snakes may actually be exposed to as they move across their habitat.



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