We examined effects of radionuclide exposure at two atomic blast sites on kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) at the Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA, using genotoxicity and population genetic analyses. We assessed chromosome damage by micronucleus and flow cytometric assays and genetic variation by randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses. The RAPD analysis showed no population structure, but mtDNA exhibited differentiation among and within populations. Genotoxicity effects were not observed when all individuals were analyzed. However, individuals with mtDNA haplotypes unique to the contaminated sites had greater chromosomal damage than contaminated-site individuals with haplotypes shared with reference sites. When interpopulation comparisons used individuals with unique haplotypes, one contaminated site had greater levels of chromosome damage than one or both of the reference sites. We hypothesize that shared-haplotype individuals are potential migrants and that unique-haplotype individuals are potential long-term residents. A parsimony approach was used to estimate the minimum number of migration events necessary to explain the haplotype distributions on a phylogenetic tree. The observed predominance of migration events into the contaminated sites supported our migration hypothesis. We conclude the atomic blast sites are ecological sinks and that immigration masks the genotoxic effects of radiation on the resident populations.
Additional publication details
Integration of genotoxicity and population genetic analyses in kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) exposed to radionuclide contamination at the Nevada Test Site, USA