London, July 31 (ANI): Mammals are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a wildlife census reveals.
The study, the largest of its kind, aimed to establish the most reliable way to assess the impact of contamination in the zone on wildlife.
The research was based on nearly four years of counting and studying animals there.
According to the scientists, birds provide the best "quantitative measure" of these impacts.
The research team claims their census of species in the zone provides more evidence that contamination has a "significant impact" on biodiversity.
Professor Timothy Mousseau from the University of South Carolina, US, and Dr Anders Moller from the University of Paris-Sud, France, collaborated on the project.
From 2006-2009, they counted and examined wildlife including insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Their previously published work threw up some of the negative impacts on birds and on insects of the low-level radiation that still contaminated the exclusion zone surrounding the power plant.
The new data on mammals and reptiles shows what Professor Moussaeu described as a "strong signal" of reduced biodiversity in these groups too.
The researchers compared the abundance of species in the exclusion zone with similar types of habitats in the area, which were not contaminated.
"The truth is that these radiation contamination effects were so large as to be overwhelming," The BBC quoted Professor Mousseau, as saying,
During their census work, Mousseau and Moller also analysed the effects of radiation contamination on animals. These impacts are particularly obvious in birds, they said.
In their studies on barn swallows, the team came across birds with tumours on their feet, necks and around their eyes.
"We think they may be more susceptible, after their long migrations, to additional environmental stress," said Professor Mousseau.
The researchers have published their findings in the journal Ecological Indicators. (ANI)