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Interesting research

But of course you do need to start out with the right questions:

Since the nuclear catastrophe took place in April 1986, the area surrounding the nuclear power plant has largely been abandoned by humans.

But although radioactive contamination devastated wildlife populations there, some animals survived and continued to breed – including feral dogs, some of whom may have descended from domestic pets.

The team found that the strays had formed into packs, like wild dogs and wolves, but the groups were living close together, a behaviour not seen in undomesticated animals.

The dogs have been monitored by the Chernobyl Dog Research Initiative since 2017, and a new study of blood samples taken by the project team has shown that the animals were genetically different from other canines.

Now the team are planning to study the new genetic traits to see if any of the mutations is helping them to survive in the radiation zone.

Lots of wildlife is doing just fine in there. The radiation levels aren’t, that is, much of a problem. So, the genes and radiation thing might not be what is important, or even interesting, to study.

One of the things about domestic dogs gone feral. The mother of pups gets no aid from any other dog in the pack. As a result the usual guess is that 1 in 100 pups survives. Packs of feral dogs are rather self-limiting over the years therefore.

Among wolves, for example, only the alpha female breeds and she is aided by the rest of the pack. Including the junior females (that they’re usually closely related makes this work).

The one behavioural change which will make a wild dog population self-sustaining or even expansionary is that aid to nursing bitches. Which would be an interesting thing to find out. Which could even be genetic of course. By this time it’s likely that the aid would be to nieces and nephews which as Haldane pointed out does work, even if weakly.

8 thoughts on “Interesting research”

  1. To the best of my knowledge, the radiation level around Chernobyl is not particularly high. Of course if you go and snuggle up to the Chernobyl elephant foot, you’d get a lethal dose pretty quickly. But mostly the background radiation is not really harmful. The local wild life certainly seems to flourish there.

    So I’d agree with you Tim. The genetic changes in the dog population are probably the result of their adaption to living in the wild away from humans. With no doubt a bit of simple genetic drift.

  2. I’d be more interested in knowing the make up of breeds of dog.
    Is there a wide range, and how long will it take to revert back to something that looks like a wolf?
    If they’re mostly larger dog breeds, German Shepards etc, then the dogs are half way there already. If there’s quite a few chihuahuas in the mix, it might take longer.

  3. Three headed dogs? Dogs that have X-ray eyes? Dogs that glow in the dark? Dogs that can transmutate into fire breathing dragons or hulking great green men with ripped trousers?

    Or were all those Sci-Fi stories made up?

  4. Their raising the possibility that the mutations are related to radioactivity may be meant to attract research grants.

    Maybe they’ll kick themselves for not mentioning coronaviruses or Mpox.

  5. I was struck that nearly every single family of refugees comes with a dog. Perhaps it’s a folk memory of having to leave their pets behind when they were evacuated in ’86.

  6. “Is there a wide range, and how long will it take to revert back to something that looks like a wolf?”

    Good chance the end result will not look like a wolf.
    The thing is that the situation there is basically a large-scale unintended experiment in speciation, with all the nasty aspects of it.
    Inbreeding, elevated mutation rate, low chance of survival to breeding age, fierce competition for resources ( relatively small, “contained” area..). True survival of the fittest at its harshest.
    What will appear in a century or two, if anything survives, will be a new subspecies of Canine with characteristics optimised for their particular environment.

    Given that there are wolves in the area there’s the possibility of crossbreeding with those, and the new subspecies taking off from there, but it’s equally likely the feral dogs wtfpwn the wolves out of existence in the area.
    Quite a lot of the bigger breeds of dog preferred there are meant to kill/chase off wolves and bears.. It’s not in their make-up to crossbreed with wolves…

    My best bet would tend to favour more like a coyote/prairywolf/dingo model, or fox-like. More opportunistic/ambush, less run-and-chasey.

    Only time will tell. The radiation is as much an aid as a hindrance to any speciation. It merely accelerates things. Both Ways.. The inbreeding/low survival rate/harsh selection is a bigger factor.

    I’m definitely not the only one keeping low-key tabs on what is happening there.
    There’s no way you can get the grants or permission to try this, and actually have a showcase for some of the currently theoretical aspects of evolution, on any scale..

    Fun thing is that there’s no such monitoring for cats.. Because they were half-feral anyway, and did not have to make the switch to “humans disappearing”. For them it’s a slightly harder version of “business as usual”, and they’re actually not expected to change much.

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