[N]early 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl plant exploded and caused an unprecedented nuclear disaster.
According to a new study published in Oecologia, decomposers — organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay – have suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil.
[T]rees in the infamous Red Forest—an area where all of the pine trees turned a reddish color and then died shortly after the accident—did not seem to be decaying, even 15 to 20 years after the meltdown.
“The gist of our results was that the radiation inhibited microbial decomposition of the leaf litter on the top layer of the soil,” Mousseau says. This means that nutrients aren’t being efficiently returned to the soil.