I work with an interdisciplinary and diverse international team whose goal is to evaluate the ecological ramifications of chronic radiation exposure on wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ). Scientific and public controversy remains over the impacts of the Chernobyl accident on ecosystems within the 4,200 km2 of surrounding evacuated land. Several species of ecological concern now exist in this abandoned landscape, yet data is lacking on the health or status of these populations. Our research examines the spatial and temporal variation in radiation levels that wild, free-ranging carnivores are exposed to in areas surrounding nuclear accidents, and provides critical answers about the health and population effects of radiation exposure. To help elucidate these questions, we are implementing an multifaceted approach that will help determine individual dose rates, population genomics, and disease related questions.
Nuclear energy production is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, and as such, potential exists for large releases of radiation into the environment (e.g., Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island). Once contamination is present in an ecosystem exposure may cause morbidity and mortality. However, the effects of chronic radiation exposure in both wildlife and humans are poorly understood. In the absence of such data, it is impossible to create effective management and remediation plans for the protection of wildlife and humans inhabiting contaminated landscapes.
Our team seeks to determine effects of long term radiation exposure on two carnivore species, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides). Carnivores are an ideal model organism for this study as they are at higher risk for accumulation of contaminants due to their high trophic position in food webs. Moreover, by incorporating two carnivore species with variable spatial requirements and life history traits, we can more thoroughly understand sub-lethal effects of chronic radiation exposure on a diversity of wildlife.
We are using an interdisciplinary approach and I am combining field, genomic, and serological techniques to investigate a suite of population and health indicators for wildlife in the CEZ.
Schlichting P, Love CN, Webster SC, Beasley JC (2019) Efficiency and composition of vertebrate scavengers at the land-water interface in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Food Webs. 10.1016/j.fooweb.2018.e00107
Byrne M, Webster S, Lance S, Love CN, Hinton T, Shamovich D, Beasley JC. (2018) Evidence of long-distance dispersal of a gray wolf from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. European Journal of Wildlife Research. 10.1007/s10344-018-1201-2
Dombrovsky V, Beasley JC, Schlichting P, Webster S, Love CN, Shamovich D. (2017) If you do not shoot: the number, territorial structure and predation of the wolf in the winter period 2016-2017 in the Chernobyl zone. Proceedings of the International Scientific and Practical Conference “Modern Problems of Hunting and Preservation of Biodiversity”.
Webster SC, Byrne ME, Lance SL, Love CN, Hinton T, Shamovich D, and Beasley JC (2016) Where the Wild Things Are: Influence of Radiation on the Distribution of Mammalian Species within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 10.1002/fee.1227
AMPHIBIAN POPULATION HEALTH AND STRUCTURE
In collaboration with researchers at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, SC, USA, I am investigating the interactions of wetland characteristics and environmental contaminants’ impacts on amphibian population structure and health. There are many potential causes of the amphibian declines witnessed worldwide and natural and anthropogenic stressors can work in combination to influence amphibian populations, potentially leading to declines or local extinctions. Additionally, amphibian populations are thought of as ideal indicator species, sensitive to perturbations which may have lasting and deleterious effects on numerous taxa within an ecosystem. Among the most often cited causes of amphibian declines are environmental contaminants and emerging infectious diseases. I am building off of our previous research and using field and lab techniques while taking a genomics approach to addressing questions of population viability and health of amphibian populations living in contaminated environments.
Flynn RW, Love CN, Coleman A, Lance SL. (2018) Variation in metal tolerance associated with population exposure history in Southern toads (Anaxyrus terrestris). Aquatic Toxicology.
Love CN, Winzeler ME, Beasley R, Scott DE, Nunziata SO, and Lance SL (2016) Patterns of Amphibian Disease Prevalence Across Contaminated and Uncontaminated Wetlands on the Savannah River Site. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms.
AVIAN MALARIA AND MERCURY CONTAMINATION
In collaboration with Larry Bryan and Dr. Stacey Lance, we investigated the potential for combined or synergistic effects of blood protozoans and mercury contamination in wading birds in the southeastern US. Mercury is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant resulting largely from atmospheric deposition as well as anthropogenic activities such as mining, coal incineration, medical and other wastes, and metal processing, among others. Environmental contaminants have been shown to negatively affect wildlife health, and in the southeastern US certain species of wading bird are known to be exposed to, and bioaccumulate, mercury. Additionally, wading birds of the southeast US are known to be host to avian malaria. Avian malaria (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) is a vector born protozoan disease which can cause severe anemia if sufficient burdens occur. We collected samples from 11 wading bird colonies in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina and from a variety of species across a range of diets and foraging habitats. We found that both nestling and adult wading birds were infected with Plasmodium and had varying concentrations of mercury in their feathers. We found the older birds exhibited a possible malaria/Hg association, though this may be confounded by their greater potential of exposure period and large-scale movements.
Bryan AL, Love CN, Mills GL, Borkhataria RR, and Lance SL (2014) Testing for associations between hematozoa infection and mercury in wading bird nestlings. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 1:222-226.