Geography of fluctuating asymmetry in the greenfinch, Carduelis chloris


  • Eevi Karvonen,

  • Juha Merilä,

  • Pekka T. Rintamäki,

  • Stefan Van Dongen

E. Karvonen, Dept of Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala Univ., Norbyvägen 18d, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden ( – J. Merilä, Ecological Genetics Research Unit, Dept of Ecology and Systematics, PO Box 65 (Biocenter 3, Viikinkaari 1), FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. – P. T. Rintamäki, Dept of Population Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18d, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden. – S. van Dongen, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Turnhoutseweg 30, B-2340 Beerse, Belgium.


Levels of fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in 12 bilateral skeletal traits were estimated from 12 populations of greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) collected along a north-south gradient across Europe. Average FA of measured traits was positively correlated with latitude indicating that the younger and genetically less diverse northern European populations are developmentally less stable than the older and genetically more diverse southern populations. Levels of FA differed significantly between different traits being lowest for functionally important traits (limb and wing bones) and highest for functionally less important traits such as foramina (apertures through bones)– a pattern that was highly concordant across different populations. Males tended to exhibit higher levels of FA than females, a finding consistent with the suggestions that males are more prone to developmental perturbations than females. Age differences in levels of FA were relatively clear, but inconsistent across traits with different degree of functionality. Individual heterozygosity – as enumerated from variation in allozyme loci – was unrelated to individual FA. No evidence for existence of individual asymmetry parameter (IAP) was found although traits related to locomotion indicated some degree of integration, which was expressed by correlations in the signed asymmetry. Nevertheless, an individual's overall asymmetry was poorly predicted by asymmetry of individual characters. Evidence for existence of population asymmetry parameter (PAP) was clear since all traits exhibited a similar degree of association with latitude. That the latitudinal cline of increasing FA towards north coincided with decreasing levels of genetic variability across the cline could be indicative of break down of developmental stability in the recently established and genetically impoverished populations. To what extent a reduced heterozygosity, the break up of co-adapted gene complexes and/or environmental differences contributed to this process cannot be distinguished from our data.