Elevated frequency of abnormalities in barn swallows from Chernobyl

Biol Lett. 2007 Aug 22;3(4):414-7. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0136.


Ever since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, that contaminated vast areas in surrounding countries with radiation, abnormalities and birth defects have been reported in human populations. Recently, several studies suggested that the elevated frequency of such abnormalities can be attributed to poverty and stress in affected human populations. Here, we present long-term results for a free-living population of barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, demonstrating the presence of 11 morphological abnormalities in populations around Chernobyl, but much less frequently in an uncontaminated Ukrainian control population and three more distant control populations. The presence of these abnormalities in barn swallows is associated with reduced viability. These findings demonstrate a link between morphological abnormalities and radiation in an animal population that cannot be attributed to poverty and stress. The most parsimonious hypothesis for abnormalities in animal and human populations alike is that the effects are caused by the same underlying cause, viz. radiation derived from the Chernobyl accident.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Air Sacs / abnormalities
  • Albinism / epidemiology
  • Albinism / etiology
  • Albinism / veterinary
  • Animals
  • Beak / abnormalities
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Accident*
  • Feathers / abnormalities
  • Radioactive Hazard Release*
  • Swallows / abnormalities*
  • Tail / abnormalities
  • Ukraine / epidemiology