A 30-year study on a Pacific atoll used for nuclear testing shows that all reefs developed a community composition quite different from that before the tests as the result of random settlement of larvae from the open ocean. Fangataufa atoll located in south-central Pacific (French Polynesia) has been used as a nuclear testing site for four atmospheric nuclear tests between 1966 and 1970.

The French government asked ecologists to survey molluscs such as snails and slugs that were partly or entirely wiped out when nuclear bombs were exploded. In 2 out of 3 reefs studied on the atoll, species richness was higher after the nuclear tests than before, indicating that the reefs were again suitable habitats for the fauna.

This study shows that random processes are an important factor in the diversity of species found in an ecosystem.

Original research paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on June 9, 2015.

Names and affiliations of selected authors

Pierre Legendre, Department of Biological Sciences, Université de Montréal, Quebec