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Environ Pollut. 2009 Mar;157(3):881-6. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2008.11.005. Epub 2008 Dec 10.

Rapid genetic erosion in pollutant-exposed experimental chironomid populations.

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  • 1Abteilung Okologie und Evolution, Institut für Okologie, Evolution und Diversität, J. W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Siesmayerstrasse 70, 60054 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


Few studies have evaluated how effectively environmental contamination may reduce genetic diversity of a population. Here, we chose a laboratory approach in order to test if tributyltin (TBT) exposure at environmentally relevant concentrations leads to reduced genetic variation in the midge Chironomus riparius. Two TBT-exposed and two unexposed experimental populations were reared simultaneously in the laboratory for 12 generations. We recorded several life-history traits in each generation and monitored genetic variation over time using five variable microsatellite markers. TBT-exposed strains showed increased larval mortality (treatments: 43.8%; controls: 27.8%), slightly reduced reproductive output, and delayed larval development. Reduction of genetic variation was strongest and only significant in the TBT-exposed strains (treatments: -45.9%, controls: -24.4% of initial heterozygosity) after 12 generations. Our findings document that chemical pollution may lead to a rapid decrease in genetic diversity, which has important implications for conservation strategies and ecological management in polluted environments.

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