Following the Charter of State Environmental Research Institution “Polesye State Radiation-Ecological Reserve” and Law “On the legal regime of the territories exposed to radioactive contamination as a result of the Chernobyl NPP accident”, principal functional task of Polesye State Radiation-Ecological Reserve is preserving natural complexes in unrestrained condition. This complies with the points of the 2002 UNO report “The humanitarian consequences of the Chernobyl NPP accident. Rehabilitation strategy”, offering the accident-affected countries to use the potential of Chernobyl territories for biodiversity preserving in compliance with international obligations.
During first decades after the Chernobyl NPP accident research works at Polesye State Radiation-Ecological Reserve (PSRER) were focused on most relevant radiobiological studies at that period of time. However, the fauna studying research conducted in the country, revealed a high potential of the reserve in terms of fauna biodiversity conservation. This determined the department’s priority directions and conditioned research works in the areas:
2006 - 2010 “Assessment of PSRER importance in vertebrate animals’ biodiversity maintenance and conservation in the Polesye region and Belarus”;
2011 – 2015 “Protected animal species in radiation biogeocenosis”;
2016 – 2020 “Terrestrial and aquatic biogeocenoses of the reserve in preserving fauna biodiversity, and circulation features of parasitic infections and invasions”. Besides, since 2016 a new research is under way, aimed at the least studied animals, representing the Chiropterous order.
Key research lines of the scientific department for fauna ecology are:
– biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrate and vertebrate animals;
–epizootic and epidemic environment in animals’ parasitic infections and invasions;
– the status of animal populations under the conditions of radioactive contamination of their habitat;
–monitoring of radionuclides uptake in organs and tissues of wild animals.
At present habitation of 11 amphibian species, 7 reptiles, 225 birds and 46 mammals is registered on the reserve territory. Habitation of the rare species, European pond turtle, is registered in the reserve. It is the most numerous in Belarus and one of the largest in Europe. Some birds species, listed in the Red Book, are quite common for the reserve territory, such as: white-tailed eagle, little crake, corncrake, little tern, terek, white-collared flycatcher, ortolan bunting, common bunting. Among rare mammal species quite common are hazel dormouse, fat dormouse, lynx, badger, European bison. In 1992 brown bear was first registered. Since 2007 Przewalski horse (solid-hoofed order, considered extinct from the territory of Belarus in 17th-18th centuries, an endangered species on the planet) has been registered on the PSRER territory. Wild horses inhabit Narovlya territories of the reserve in separate isolated groupings. According to recent records Przewalski horse in the reserve counts 31 individuals.
Among the terrestrial vertebrate species listed in the Red Book of the Republic of Belarus, habitation of 6 species of 5 mammal orders (54.5%), 60 bird species (85.7%), 2 reptile species (100%), and 1 amphibian species (50%) is registered on the reserve territory. Many of them are put on the Red List of the International Union for the Protection of Nature and mentioned in the Appendix to the Bonn Convention, as well as they are protected by the Berne Convention. Since 2005 the reserve has been granted the status of Important Bird Area (IBA) of international significance.
The PSRER contribution into Belarus strategic achievements in conservation of European bisons is significant. The reserve territory hosts one of 9 free-living populations, established in the Republic, characterized by high reproductive figures. By 2016 it has reached 129 individuals.
Territorial groupings of lynx (about 30 individuals) and badger (about 120 individuals) are among the most numerous, even compared to other protected territories of Belarus, and amount to 25% and 30% of the populations in national parks and reserves (about 8.5% and 7% of the population in Belarus). Bear has also become a permanent inhabitant of the reserve.
White-tailed eagle is a common nesting (15-20 couples) and wintering (about 100 individuals) species in the reserve. The populations of eagle owls, black storks, and common bee-eaters are estimated as 10-15, 20-30, and 50 nesting couples respectively. Since 2012 nesting sites of gnome owls have been registered.
The population of european pond turtle in the reserve makes up the core compared to available literary data in other habitation areas, counting about 70 thousand individuals.
Another rare reptile species – the smooth snake – is also permanently registered in the reserve.
Finding new species for Belarus on the reserve territories (arctic (willow) warbler, scolia maculata, european mantid, south-russian tarantula), along with habitation of Przewalski horse, imported from the Ukrainian exclusion zone, testifies to a high degree of the territory attractiveness for animals.
The reserve territory (216.5 thousand ha) plays a significant role in species variety and habitation of rare animals, protected in the republic and internationally. At the same time most of the species have stable and developing territorial groupings. This is determined by strict security measures and removal of any anthropogenic load allowing safe existence even for species with large individual areas. It is obvious that we need to conserve not the individual animals but the ecological niche as a consistent part of vast natural complexes.
The reserve’s contiguity to large areas of Ukrainian exclusion zone gives opportunities for creating major cross-border nature protective wildlife refuge.
Head of the Scientific Department for Fauna Ecology
Professor, Doctor Of Biological Sciences