Ionizing radiation has been shown to produce negative effects on organisms, although little is known about its ecological and evolutionary effects. As a study model, we isolated bacteria associated with feathers from barn swallows Hirundo rustica from three study areas around Chernobyl differing in background ionizing radiation levels and one control study site in Denmark. Each bacterial community was exposed to four different ? radiation doses ranging from 0.46 to 3.96 kGy to test whether chronic exposure to radiation had selected for resistant bacterial strains. Experimental radiation duration had an increasingly overall negative effect on the survival of all bacterial communities. After exposure to ? radiation, bacteria isolated from the site with intermediate background radiation levels survived better and produced more colonies than the bacterial communities from other study sites with higher or lower background radiation levels. Long-term effects of radiation in natural populations might be an important selective pressure on traits of bacteria that facilitate survival in certain environments. Our findings indicate the importance of further studies to understand the proximate mechanisms acting to buffer the negative effects of ionizing radiation in natural populations.