Reproduction in the freshwater crustacean Asellus aquaticus along a gradient of radionuclide contamination at Chernobyl

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

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Nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima have led to contamination of the environment that will persist for many years. The consequences of chronic low-dose radiation exposure for non-human organisms inhabiting contaminated environments remain unclear. In radioecology, crustaceans are important model organisms for the development of environmental radioprotection. Previous laboratory studies have demonstrated deleterious effects of radiation exposure on crustacean reproduction. However, no studies have documented the effects of chronic radiation exposure on the reproduction of natural crustacean populations. Based on data from laboratory exposures, we hypothesised that populations of the freshwater isopod Asellus aquaticus exposed to radiation for thirty years at Chernobyl would display reduced reproductive output and altered timing of reproduction. To test this hypothesis, A. aquaticus was collected from six lakes at Chernobyl over two years with total dose rates ranging from 0.06–27.1 μGy/h. No significant differences in the fecundity, mass of broods or proportion of reproducing female A. aquaticus were recorded. Significant differences in the body mass of gravid females were recorded suggesting different timings of reproduction, however this was not related to radiation contamination. No significant effect of a range of environmental parameters on A. aquaticus reproduction was recorded. Our data suggests current dose rates at Chernobyl are not causing discernible effects on the reproductive output of A. aquaticus. This study is the first to assess the effects of chronic low-dose radiation exposure on the reproductive output of an aquatic invertebrate at Chernobyl. These findings are consistent with proposed radiological protection benchmarks for the maintenance of wildlife populations and will assist in management of environments impacted by radiation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-17
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date7 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • RCUK
  • NERC
  • NE/L000393/1
  • Chernobyl
  • crustacean
  • fecundity
  • radiation


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