The functional significance of ribosomal (r)DNA variation: Impacts on the evolutionary ecology of organisms

Lawrence J. Weider, James J. Elser, Teresa J. Crease, Mariana Mateos, James B. Cotner, Therese A. Markow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The multi-gene family that encodes ribosomal RNA (the rDNA) has been the subject of numerous review articles examining its structure and function, as well as its use as a molecular systematic marker. The purpose of this review is to integrate information about structural and functional aspects of rDNA that impact the ecology and evolution of organisms. We examine current understanding of the impact of length heterogeneity and copy number in the rDNA on fitness and the evolutionary ecology of organisms. We also examine the role that elemental ratios (biological stoichiometry) play in mediating the impact of rDNA variation in natural populations and ecosystems. The body of work examined suggests that there are strong reciprocal feedbacks between rDNA and the ecology of all organisms, from microbes to metazoans, mediated through increased phosphorus demand in organisms with high rRNA content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-242
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - 2005


  • Fitness
  • Growth rate
  • Intergenic spacer
  • Microevolution
  • Ribosomal DNA
  • Stoichiometry

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