Scientists have found that bumblebees exposed to radiation in the Chernobyl exclusion zone experienced a “significant” decline in reproductive capacity. Scientists believe their study, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, should prompt a rethinking of international calculations of risk to the nuclear environment, AFP reported.
In their study, the scientists sought to find out how ionizing radiation affects those insects that are often considered more resistant than other species.
Experts from Scotland and Germany exposed bee colonies in laboratory conditions to various levels of radiation found in exclusion zones near Chernobyl, where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986.
The scientists found that colony reproduction was reduced by 30–45% at doses that were previously considered too low to affect insects.
“We found that with the radiation levels found in Chernobyl, the number of new queen bees produced in the colony was significantly reduced and colony growth was inhibited. This means that the colonies reached their peak weight within a week, ”explains lead author Catherine Raines.
The authors stated that they chose bumblebees for two reasons. Firstly, due to the lack of laboratory studies of bees, and secondly, because of their decisive role in pollination.
“Our research shows that insects living in the most contaminated areas of Chernobyl may suffer adverse effects with consequent consequences for ecosystem services such as pollination,” Raines added.
The study authors stated that if their results can be generalized, “they suggest that insects suffer significant negative effects at doses of radiation that were previously considered safe.” This is why the team of experts has called for a revision of international standards for the radiological protection of the environment.