Mousseau et al. Anther‐smut fungi from more contaminated sites in Chernobyl show lower infection ability and lower viability following experimental irradiation. The long‐term contamination that followed the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl provides a case study for the effects of chronic ionizing radiation on living organisms and on their ability to tolerate or evolve resistance to such radiation. Previously, we studied the fertility and viability of early developmental stages of a castrating plant pathogen, the anther‐smut fungus Microbotryum lychnidis‐dioicae, isolated from field sites varying over 700‐fold in degree of radioactive contamination. Neither the budding rate of haploid spores following meiosis nor the karyotype structure varied with increasing radiation levels at sampling sites. Here, we assessed the ability of the same M. lychnidis‐dioicae strains to perform their whole life cycle, up to the production of symptoms in the plants, that is, the development of anthers full of fungal spores; we also assessed their viability under experimental radiation. Fungal strains from more contaminated sites had no lower spore numbers in anthers or viability, but infected host plants less well, indicating lower overall fitness due to radioactivity exposure. These findings improve our understanding of the previous field data, in which the anther‐smut disease prevalence on Silene latifolia plants caused by M. lychnidis‐dioicae was lower at more contaminated sites. Although the fungus showed relatively high resistance to experimental radiation, we found no evidence that increased resistance to radiation has evolved in populations from contaminated sites. Fungal strains from more contaminated sites even tolerated or repaired damage from a brief acute exposure to γ radiation less well than those from non‐ or less contaminated sites. Our results more generally concur with previous studies in showing that the fitness of living organisms is affected by radiation after nuclear disasters, but that they do not rapidly evolve higher tolerance.
Ecology & Evolution 26th May 2020 read more »