Impaired swimming behaviour and morphology of sperm from barn swallows Hirundo rustica in Chernobyl.

Research paper by A P AP Møller, T A TA Mousseau, C C Lynn, C C Lynnn, S S Ostermiller, G G Rudolfsen

Indexed on: 26 Jan '08Published on: 26 Jan '08Published in: Mutation Research - Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis


We investigated the motility and morphology of live sperm from barn swallows Hirundo rustica breeding in radioactively contaminated areas around Chernobyl and control areas in Ukraine in order to test the hypothesis that swimming behaviour and morphology of sperm was impaired by radioactive contamination. We obtained sperm samples from 98% of sampled birds, thus avoiding sampling bias due to the fraction of males not producing sperm samples. Analyses of within- and between-sample repeatability revealed significant and intermediate to large estimates for all sperm parameters. There were significant differences between the Chernobyl area and the control area for two of 11 sperm behaviour parameters, and significant interactions between area and year for six of these parameters. The proportion of sperm with abnormal morphology was elevated in barn swallows from Chernobyl. A principal component (PC) analysis revealed four significant axes that explained 88% of the variance in sperm behaviour parameters. One of these principal components differed between areas, and three components showed significant year by area interactions. PC2 representing the frequency of slow sperm increased with increasing radiation in one year, but not another. PC3 representing sperm with high linearity, small amplitude of lateral head displacement and low track velocity decreased with increasing background radiation level. PC4 reflecting a large proportion of static sperm with high beat cross frequency increased with increasing background radiation level. Sperm behaviour as reflected by principal components was predictable among years from information on level of radiation, and it was predictable among sites in different years. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that sperm behaviour and morphology have been affected by radiation due to the Chernobyl accident.