Data were collected on the distribution of nine families of transposable elements among a sample of autosomes isolated from a natural population of Drosophila melanogaster, by means of in situ hybridization of biotinylated probes to polytene chromosomes. There is no general tendency for elements to accumulate at the tips of chromosomes. Elements tend to be present in excess of random expectation in the euchromatin proximal to the centromeres of the major autosomes, and on chromosome four. There is considerable heterogeneity between different families in the extent of this excess. The overall abundance of element families is inversely related to the extent to which they accumulate proximally. The level of proximal accumulation for the major autosomes is similar to that on the fourth chromosome, but less than that for the X chromosome. There is an overall deficiency of elements in the mid-section of the X compared with the mid-sections of the major autosomes, with considerable heterogeneity between families. The magnitude of this deficiency is positively related to the extent to which elements accumulate proximally. No such deficiency is seen if the proximal regions of the X and autosomes are compared. There is a small and non-significant excess of elements in third chromosomes carrying inversions. There is some between-year heterogeneity in element abundance. The implications of these findings are discussed, and it is concluded that they generally support the hypothesis that transposable element abundance is regulated primarily by the deleterious fitness consequences of meiotic ectopic exchange between elements. If this is the case, such exchange must be very infrequent in the proximal euchromatin, and the elements detected in population surveys of this kind must be inserted into sites where they have negligible mutational effects on fitness.
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