This paper examines the effects of DNA sequence evolution on RNA secondary structures and compensatory mutations. Models of the secondary structures of Drosophila melanogaster 18S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and of the complex between 2S, 5.8S, and 28S rRNAs have been drawn on the basis of comparative and energetic criteria. The overall AU richness of the D. melanogaster rRNAs allows the resolution of some ambiguities in the structures of both large rRNAs. Comparison of the sequence of expansion segment V2 in D. melanogaster 18S rRNA with the same region in three other Drosophila species and the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans morsitans) allows us to distinguish between two models for the secondary structure of this region. The secondary structures of the expansion segments of D. melanogaster 28S rRNA conform to a general pattern for all eukaryotes, despite having highly divergent sequences between D. melanogaster and vertebrates. The 70 novel compensatory mutations identified in the 28S rRNA show a strong (70%) bias toward A-U base pairs, suggesting that a process of biased mutation and/or biased fixation of A and T point mutations or AT-rich slippage-generated motifs has occurred during the evolution of D. melanogaster rDNA. This process has not occurred throughout the D. melanogaster genome. The processes by which compensatory pairs of mutations are generated and spread are discussed, and a model is suggested by which a second mutation is more likely to occur in a unit with a first mutation as such a unit begins to spread through the family and concomitantly through the population. Alternatively, mechanisms of proofreading in stem-loop structures at the DNA level, or between RNA and DNA, might be involved. The apparent tolerance of noncompensatory mutations in some stems which are otherwise strongly supported by comparative criteria within D. melanogaster 28S rRNA must be borne in mind when compensatory mutations are used as a criterion in secondary-structure modeling. Noncompensatory mutation may extend to the production of unstable structures where a stem is stabilized by RNA-protein or additional RNA-RNA interactions in the mature ribosome. Of motifs suggested to be involved in rRNA processing, one (CGAAAG) is strongly overrepresented in the 28S rRNA sequence. The data are discussed both in the context of the forces involved with the evolution of multigene families and in the context of molecular coevolution in the rDNA family in particular.