Low-level EMF effects on wildlife and plants: What research tells us about an ecosystem approach

January 7, 2023

There is enough evidence to indicate we may be damaging non-human species at ecosystem and biosphere levels across all taxa from rising background levels of anthropogenic non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) from 0 Hz to 300 GHz.

The focus of this Perspective paper is on the unique physiology of non-human species, their extraordinary sensitivity to both natural and anthropogenic EMF, and the likelihood that artificial EMF in the static, extremely low frequency (ELF) and radiofrequency (RF) ranges of the non-ionizing electromagnetic spectrum are capable at very low intensities of adversely affecting both fauna and flora in all species studied.

Any existing exposure standards are for humans only; wildlife is unprotected, including within the safety margins of existing guidelines, which are inappropriate for trans-species sensitivities and different non-human physiology. Mechanistic, genotoxic, and potential ecosystem effects are discussed.


Contrary to popular opinion, we know a great deal about how non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) affect non-human species because we have been using animal and plant models in research going back at least to the 1930’s (1). Such research may have been conducted with humans in mind but can also be extrapolated to non-human species protection if we choose to apply it that way.

Mice and rats have been the primary animal species used in research, but also rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, non-human primates, amphibians, insects, nematodes, various microbes, yeast cells, plants, and others. Effects have been seen in all taxa, in various frequencies, intensities, and exposure parameters. To non-human species, these are highly biologically active exposures, often functioning as stressors. This includes non-ionizing EMF in the static, extremely low frequency (ELF; 0–300 Hz) through the radiofrequency (RF) ranges used in all modern technology between 3 kHz and 300 GHz.

Extrapolations to wildlife from carefully controlled laboratory conditions, however, are difficult to quantify due to myriad variables such as: genetic variation and mobility, weather/climate change, site/region-specific environmental aspects, duration of exposure and variations in movements across habitats, species specialized physical characteristics, animal size, and orientation toward the field source—all of which can confound precise data assessment. Sometimes controlled studies correlate with patterns seen in wildlife, e.g., genetic, behavioral, reproductive, and other effects. Where this is the case, more confidence is possible. But often effects to wildlife manifest in the negative—species simply disappear. Nevertheless, increasing evidence has found effects to different species near communication structures in studies where extrapolations to field exposure have been made (29).

In addition, there have been extensive EMF wildlife reviews published between 2003 and 2021 (1022). Recently, Levitt et al. (2325) extrapolated to broad ecosystem level effects for the first time, including extensive tables that match rising ambient levels to effects seen at vanishingly low intensities now common in the environment as chronic exposures, and offer policy recommendations based on existing environmental laws.

The measured rising EMF levels in ambient environments (23) certainly elevate concerns, especially with 5G on the horizon using higher frequencies and novel signal characteristics/waveforms that are capable of affecting insects in particular with implications for the entire biome as discussed below. 5G is now increasing as a network platform in many places even as we are trying to figure out how to measure and distinguish its wideband signals from the larger scheme of 3–4G LTE networks with which it interacts. Already some of the unusual aspects of 5G (e.g., significantly higher peak emissions), are distinguishable from the background of other exposures as an environmental factor (26).

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