Blackened by radiation. Scientists tracked the evolution of frogs in the Chernobyl zone
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Researchers have found that more than 35 years after the Chernobyl accident, dark skin has become the norm for local eastern tree frogs.
The 1986 Chernobyl accident was undeniably one of the world's biggest and worst tragedies. Then a huge amount of radioactive materials was released into the environment, which made the area of 2.6 thousand square kilometers uninhabitable, writes New Atlas.
At the same time, for scientists, the exclusion zone is a unique microcosm — here, in fact, they can observe the evolution of various species in an environment with a high content of radiation. In a new study, Spanish scientists Pablo Burraco and Germán Orizaola from the Doñana Biological Station decided to take a moment and see how the animals in Chernobyl managed to adapt to new living conditions.
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For the first time, scientists visited the exclusion zone in 2016. Then a team of researchers managed to find here several oriental tree frogs of a curious color. As a rule, representatives of this species are bright green in color, however, the frogs encountered by scientists were black, which attracted the attention of biologists. The researchers suggested that the skin color of tree frogs is related to the level of radiation, but for more accurate results, more research was required.
For the next couple of years, scientists returned to the Chernobyl zone to better study the eastern tree frogs. In total, they documented about two hundred representatives of this species, and all of them had different skin colors depending on the place where they were found.
In total, scientists examined 12 areas with different levels of radiation, including 4 in places outside the exclusion zone. And they came to the conclusion that in the places most affected, the color of the frogs reached ash-black, while in remote places it remained the same or was slightly darker. On average, tree frogs in the exclusion zone were more than 40% darker than their relatives in clean ponds.
Further study of eastern tree frogs showed that melanin is responsible for changing the color of their skin – which darkens the skin and reduces cell damage, caused by radiation. Melanin is known to protect against ultraviolet radiation, but scientists believe that it can also reduce the effects of radiation exposure.
As a result, scientists believe that the frogs, which were at the time of the accident in the most polluted areas, actually received from nature is a huge bonus that gave them the opportunity not only to survive, but also to reproduce. And now, after more than 35 years and a dozen generations of frogs, dark skin has become the norm for the eastern tree frogs of this region.
Scientists hope that their study will become the basis for many others, and in the future scientists will be able to better study the consequences of nuclear disasters and the ability of ecosystems to recover from damage.