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Keywords:

  • developmental stability;
  • fluctuating asymmetry;
  • genetic quality;
  • sexual selection;
  • stalk-eyed flies;
  • stress

It has been proposed that females use fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in sexual ornaments to assess male quality. FA of sexual traits is predicted to show greater sensitivity to stress than FA of nonsexual traits, and to be heritable. We used a half-sib mating design and manipulation of larval food environment to test these predictions on stalk-eyed flies, Cyrtodiopsis dalmanni, in which females prefer males with larger eyespans. We measured size and FA of eyestalks and of two nonsexually selected characters, wing length and width. We found no evidence of an increase in FA under larval food stress in any of the individual traits, although trait size decreased under stress. We combined FA across traits into a single composite index, and found that males reared in the most benign larval environment had significantly higher composite FA than males reared on other media. There was no such effect in females. Heritability of FA was not significantly different from zero in any of the traits, in any of the environments, although trait sizes showed high heritability. We conclude that FA in sexual and nonsexual traits is a poor indicator of developmental stress and genetic quality.