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19 May 2017

Today was a completely non-stop day. We spent 10 full hours working in the lab, sampling the frogs collected the previous night, just to jump into the car and go to the field for more. At the end, we collected seven more frogs from a completely new locality in the middle of the Exclusion Zone, a total labyrinth of trees and shrubs in which catching frogs was a bit of an odyssey.

We started the day still with the happy face of the 30 frogs collected the night before. This number, collected in two different localities (one new) is really important for having good sample size for some of the new traits that we are evaluating this year. Anyway, we knew that doing a full sampling of all these frogs will take a lot, a lot, of time…

As in previous days, we collected information and samples for about 30 different traits for each individual, from photos to evaluate coloration and swabs of the skin microbiome, to blood biochemical profile, and all kind of tissues for physiological and genomic analyses. A lot of work that takes more than 20 minutes per individual to Pablo, Jean-Marc and me. On top of that Sergey and Zenja are measuring individual dose rate with the radiometer. An amazingly complex and complete sampling!!

Even with all the quick work, we were unable to process the last six individuals before dinner time. Weather didn’t look too good during the day, big clouds, rain and a substantial drop in temperatures, far from the preferred conditions for catching treefrogs. We discussed if going to the field or not, and at the end we decided that we must go, to no surprise for our Ukrainian colleagues 🙂 This was probably the last night we had to catch more frogs inside the Exclusion Zone before moving out for more frog collection. So, there were no alternatives really.

We decided to move to an area around the center of the Exclusion Zone that we had not visited before. This area has really low levels of radioactive contamination, a good option for us after sampling already in three localities with medium and high levels. First places that we checked during the night look really good and with good activity of fire-bellied toads, but not a sign of treefrogs. After some more driving we arrived at a locality a bit in the middle of the forest, with treefrogs calling on the distance. There were not too many, but it was our best option.

Soon after entering into the pond it was clear that the place was difficult for catching frogs. A bog area full of shrubs and dead trees in which it was difficult to move due to all the branches closing the way. It was also a little nightmare of mosquitoes… Treefrogs were calling from the middle of the trees just to make things a bit more difficult. After a good while, we managed to catch seven frogs (5 Sergey!!, 2 me) at that was all. Not much, but this is a locality in which we had never worked before, so these samples are particularly important for our study. This is especially true for our population genetics studies, since this locality sits in the middle of the Exclusion Zone, covering a gap in our sampling map. Few, but important.

The night was cold and with no more frog activity, so we moved back to the cars and into Chernobyl city.

The plan for today is finish with the sampling of the six remaining from the previous night and fully process these seven individuals. The right amount of work to be busy but not that crazy busy as last day. On Monday, we will move out of the Exclusion Zone, towards Slavutych (the administrative center of the Radioecology Laboratory) for trying to catch frogs in never-contaminated areas. So, it’s not clear if we are going to be in the field during the night or not, since we wouldn’t have much time to process any frogs tomorrow morning. Weather forecast doesn’t look very good either. So, probably these frogs will be the last from the Zone for now, a total of 79 so far for the trip.

Being in clean areas means that we accumulate the standard 3 microSv today, for a total of 43 microSv for the trip. During the night we saw red deer, roe deer, white-breasted hedgehog and even a tortoise.

More tomorrow. Thanks for following our work in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, our attempt to tell scientific activities “live”.