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expert reaction to study of dog population around Chernobyl

A study published in Science Advances looks at dog populations inhabiting the nuclear exclusion zone.


Prof Jim Smith, Professor of Environmental Science at Portsmouth University, said:

“This study analyses the population structure of dogs at Chernobyl, finding that dogs at Chernobyl had different population structures to two other free-living dog populations. It is important to note, however, that this study in no way links differences in population structure of dogs to current radiation at Chernobyl. It only shows that there is a different mix of breeds and families at Chernobyl compared to the other sites – this isn’t a surprising finding given that the current population depends on the particular mix of breeds which survived the domestic animal cull in 1986 as well as subsequent introductions.

“The context of this work is poorly explained, in my opinion. For example, the authors claim that ‘the abundance of wildlife populations within the CEZ was significantly reduced following the accident’ – citing the findings of a small study which in my opinion has significant statistical flaws1,2 and which has been contradicted by much more robust studies3,4,5. I think that the paper could mislead the reader, claiming ‘although some species appear to have recovered, likely due to a lack of human disturbance, many have not’ – citing a paper I led3 when in fact our paper in no way supports the authors’ claim that many have not recovered.

“I am surprised that the authors do not clearly state in the paper that their results do not show that radiation is causally linked to differences in population structure of dogs at Chernobyl. I am also surprised that the title of the press release claims ‘The dogs of Chernobyl may be genetically distinct due to varying levels of radiation exposure’ when the paper presents no evidence to support a causal relationship between population structure and radiation dose.

“That is not to say that extremely high radiation doses in some areas during the first weeks after the accident couldn’t have impacted significantly on domestic and wild animal populations. Nor does a lack of evidence in this paper show that there is no effect of radiation on animals at Chernobyl.”

1 Møller, A. P., & Mousseau, T. A. (2013). Assessing effects of radiation on abundance of mammals and predator–prey interactions in Chernobyl using tracks in the snow. Ecological Indicators, 26, 112-116.

2 Beaugelin-Seiller, K., Garnier-Laplace, J., Della-Vedova, C., Métivier, J. M., Lepage, H., Mousseau, T. A., & Møller, A. P. (2020). Dose reconstruction supports the interpretation of decreased abundance of mammals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 14083.

3 Deryabina, T. G., Kuchmel, S. V., Nagorskaya, L. L., Hinton, T. G., Beasley, J. C., Lerebours, A., & Smith, J. T. (2015). Long-term census data reveal abundant wildlife populations at Chernobyl. Current Biology, 25(19), R824-R826.

4 Webster, S. C., Byrne, M. E., Lance, S. L., Love, C. N., Hinton, T. G., Shamovich, D., & Beasley, J. C. (2016). Where the wild things are: influence of radiation on the distribution of four mammalian species within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(4), 185-190.

5 Beresford, N. A., Gashchak, S., Wood, M. D., & Barnett, C. L. (2023). Mammals in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone’s Red Forest: a motion-activated camera trap study. Earth System Science Data, 15(2), 911-920.



‘The dogs of Chernobyl: Demographic insights into populations inhabiting the nuclear exclusion zone’ by Gabriella J. Spatola et al. was published in Science Advances at 7pm UK time on Friday 3 March.

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.ade2537



Declared interests

No reply to our request for DOIs was received.

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