Does Chernobyl-derived radiation impact the developmental stability of Asellus aquaticus 30 years on?

Neil Fuller, Jim Smith, Liubov L. Nagorskaya, Dmitri I. Gudkov, Alex Ford

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Effects of long-term, environmentally relevant doses of radiation on biota remain unclear owing to a lack of studies following chronic exposure in contaminated environments. The 1986 Chernobyl accident dispersed vast amounts of radioactivity into the environment which persists to date. Despite three decades of research, the impacts of the incident on nonhuman organisms continues to be contested within the scientific literature. The present study assesses the impact of chronic radiation exposure from Chernobyl on the developmental stability of the model aquatic isopod, Asellus aquaticus using fluctuating asymmetry (FA) as an indicator. Fluctuating asymmetry, defined as random deviations from the expected perfect bilateral symmetry of an organism, has gained prominence as an indicator of developmental stability in ecotoxicology. Organisms were collected from six lakes along a gradient of radionuclide contamination in Belarus and the Ukraine. Calculated total dose rates ranged from 0.06 – 27.1 μGy/h. Fluctuating asymmetry was assessed in four meristic and one metrical trait. Significant differences in levels of pooled asymmetry were recorded between sample sites independent of sex and specific trait measured. However, there was no correlation of asymmetry with radiation doses, suggesting that differences in asymmetry were not attributed to radionuclide contamination and were driven by elevated asymmetry at a single site. No correlation between FA and measured environmental parameters suggested a biotic factor driving observed FA differences. This study appears to be the first to record no evident increase in developmental stability of biota from the Chernobyl region. These findings will aid in understanding the response of organisms to chronic pollutant exposure and the long term effects of large scale nuclear incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242–250
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date24 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


  • RCUK
  • NERC
  • NE/L000393/1
  • Chernobyl
  • Radioactivity
  • Fluctuating Asymmetry
  • Aquatic Invertebrate


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