Bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus, specimens have been annually sampled from the radioactive Chernobyl, Ukraine, environment and nonradioactive reference sites since 1997. Exposed voles continually exhibit increased mitochondrial DNA haplotype (h) and nucleotide diversity (ND), observed in the hypervariable control region (1997-1999). Increased maternal mutation rates, source-sink relationships, or both are proposed as hypotheses for these differences. Samples from additional years (2000 and 2001) have been incorporated into this temporal study. To evaluate the hypothesis that an increased mutation rate is associated with increased h, DNA sequences were examined in a phylogenetic context for novel substitutions not observed in haplotypes from bank voles from outside Ukraine or in other species of Clethrionomys. Such novel substitutions might result from in situ mutation events and, if largely restricted to samples from radioactive environments, support an increased maternal mutation rate in these areas. The only unique substitution meeting this criterion was found in an uncontaminated reference site. All other substitutions are found in other haplotypes of the bank vole or in other species. Increased maternal mutation rates do not appear to explain trends in h and ND observed in northern Ukraine. Studies examining ecological dynamics will clarify the reasons behind, and significance of, increased levels of h in contaminated areas.
- Mitochondrial DNA diversity