It’s been over four years since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, releasing radiation out into the environment. As robot-led investigations and cleanup efforts grind on, research teams from around the world have been studying the impacts of the contamination on wildlife, both in the short term and for years to come.
In 2014, we learned that the lifespans and population sizes of certain bird and butterfly species have dropped. Some also showed signs of abnormal growths and growth rates: atypical feathers on barn swallows, for example, and smaller forewings on pale grass blue butterflies. Meanwhile, irradiated monkeys exhibited low red and white blood cell counts. However, for each of these sorts of conclusions, there’s also news of animals adapting. Some bird species living in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, for instance, aren’t just coping – they appear to be benefiting.
And what about plants? A genetic analysis of rice seedlings exposed to radiation near Fukushima revealed changes to DNA repair mechanisms and the induction of genes involved in cell death. Near Chernobyl, dead trees and fallen leaves aren’t decaying (even decades later) because radiation inhibited the microbial decomposers.
Then there’s this. Back in May, Twitter user @san_kaido from Nasushiobara posted this striking photo:
マーガレットの帯化(那須塩原市5/26)② 右は４つの花茎が帯状に繋がったまま成長し，途中で２つに別れて２つの花がつながって咲いた。左は４つの花茎がそのまま成長して繋がって花が咲き輪の様になった。空間線量0.5μSv地点(地上高1m) pic.twitter.com/MinxdFgXBC
— 三悔堂 (@san_kaido) May 27, 2015
According to International Business Times, the tweet reads: "The right one grew up, split into 2 stems to have 2 flowers connected each other, having 4 stems of flower tied belt-like. The left one has 4 stems grew up to be tied to each other and it had the ring-shaped flower. The atmospheric dose is 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground."
They might look like deformed victims of a nuclear disaster, but these daisies are likely the result of a rare, but natural condition called fasciation, or crested growth. This can happen when the parts of a growing embryo fuse abnormally, resulting in a flattened-looking stem. And oftentimes, flowers and leaves will develop unusual shapes and show up at odd angles to that stem. As gardeners will tell you, fasciated plants are not exclusive to disaster sites. The causes of this condition range from infections and severe pruning to hormonal imbalances and (run-of-the-mill) genetic mutations.