Evol Ecol Res 7: 381-406 (2005)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Individual fluctuating asymmetry in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) persists across moults, but is not heritable and not related to fitness

Leif Christian Stige,* Tore Slagsvold and Leif Asbjørn Vøllestad

Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Address all correspondence to Leif Christian Stige, Biogéosciences, UMR-CNRS 5561, Université de Bourgogne, 6 Boulevard Gabriel, 21000 Dijon, France.
e-mail: leif.stige@u-bourgogne.fr


Questions: What is the relationship between fluctuating asymmetry (small, random departures from perfect morphological symmetry) and individual fitness? What is the heritability of fluctuating asymmetry? At which developmental stage is plumage fluctuating asymmetry determined?

Hypotheses: Fluctuating asymmetry is negatively correlated with fitness. Fluctuating asymmetry is heritable. Individual signed left–right asymmetries persist across moults.

Organism: Pied flycatchers.

Field site: Mixed forest area supplied with nest boxes. Oslo, Norway.

Methods: We monitored breeding or breeding attempts of 300 individually marked birds over a 4-year period. We measured fluctuating asymmetry of up to five plumage traits for the adults each year, as well as for 448 nestlings.

Results: Neither composite nor single trait fluctuating asymmetry was associated with individual condition, attractiveness, reproductive success or survival. Estimated heritabilities of signed and unsigned fluctuating asymmetry were low and non-significant. This implies that fluctuating asymmetry was a poor predictor of genetic quality or phenotypic condition. Among-individual differences in fluctuating asymmetry therefore had little biological significance. Individual signed asymmetries persisted from the nestling stage to adulthood, and across at least two moults for adults. Plumage fluctuating asymmetry therefore reflected developmental noise acting on the embryological development of the feather follicles, rather than on the actual growth of the feathers.

Keywords: developmental stability, fitness, fluctuating asymmetry, heritability, ontogeny.

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