The dead do not rot in Chernobyl

Like a landscape of the undead, the woods outside Chernobyl are having trouble decomposing. The catastrophic meltdown and ensuing radiation blast of April 1986 has had long-term effects on the very soil and ground cover of the forested region, essentially leaving the dead trees and leaf litter unable to decompose. The result is a forest full of “petrified-looking pine trees” that no longer seem capable of rotting.

Indeed, Smithsonian reports, “decomposers — organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay — have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil.”

All of that now has been slowed way down, as explored in a new study led by University of South Carolina biologist Timothy Mousseau, just published in Oecologica.

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