To better understand genetic diversity of mammalian reoviruses, we studied sequence variability in the S3 gene segment of 17 field-isolate reovirus strains and prototype strains of the three reovirus serotypes. Strains studied were isolated over a 37-year period from different mammalian hosts and geographic locations. A high degree of variability was observed in the nucleotide sequences of the S3 gene, whereas the deduced amino acid sequences of the S3 gene product, sigma NS, were highly conserved. When variability among the S3 nucleotide sequences was analyzed using pairwise comparisons, we found that 5' and 3' noncoding regions were significantly more conserved than the remainder of the gene. This high degree of sequence conservation was also observed within the first 15 nucleotides of the 5' coding region. Phylogenetic analyses showed that multiple alleles of the S3 gene cocirculate and that genetic diversity in the S3 gene does not correlate with host species, geographic locale, or date of isolation. Phylogenetic trees constructed from variation in the S3 sequences are distinct from those previously generated from sequences that encode attachment protein sigma 1, core protein sigma 2, and outer capsid protein sigma 3, which supports the hypothesis that reovirus gene segments reassort in nature. These findings suggest that reovirus gene segments are well-adapted to mammalian hosts and that reovirus evolution has reached an equilibrium.