A review of the ecological effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF)

Environ Int. 2013 Jan:51:116-40. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2012.10.009. Epub 2012 Dec 20.


Objective: This article presents a systematic review of published scientific studies on the potential ecological effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) in the range of 10 MHz to 3.6 GHz (from amplitude modulation, AM, to lower band microwave, MW, EMF).

Methods: Publications in English were searched in ISI Web of Knowledge and Scholar Google with no restriction on publication date. Five species groups were identified: birds, insects, other vertebrates, other organisms, and plants. Not only clear ecological articles, such as field studies, were taken into consideration, but also biological articles on laboratory studies investigating the effects of RF-EMF with biological endpoints such as fertility, reproduction, behaviour and development, which have a clear ecological significance, were also included.

Results: Information was collected from 113 studies from original peer-reviewed publications or from relevant existing reviews. A limited amount of ecological field studies was identified. The majority of the studies were conducted in a laboratory setting on birds (embryos or eggs), small rodents and plants. In 65% of the studies, ecological effects of RF-EMF (50% of the animal studies and about 75% of the plant studies) were found both at high as well as at low dosages. No clear dose-effect relationship could be discerned. Studies finding an effect applied higher durations of exposure and focused more on the GSM frequency ranges.

Conclusions: In about two third of the reviewed studies ecological effects of RF-EMF was reported at high as well as at low dosages. The very low dosages are compatible with real field situations, and could be found under environmental conditions. However, a lack of standardisation and a limited number of observations limit the possibility of generalising results from an organism to an ecosystem level. We propose in future studies to conduct more repetitions of observations and explicitly use the available standards for reporting RF-EMF relevant physical parameters in both laboratory and field studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecology
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Radio Waves*