Fluctuating asymmetry in a secondary sexual trait: no associations with individual fitness, environmental stress or inbreeding, and no heritability


 Loeske Kruuk, Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK. Tel.: 0131 650 5515; fax: 0131 650 6564; e-mail: loeske.kruuk@ed.ac.uk


Abstract It has been suggested that fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in secondary sexual traits may be a useful indicator of either individual quality or environmental stress. We tested this concept using a series of analyses of FA in male antler size in a wild red deer (Cervus elaphus) population, using four measures of size repeated across successive years on the same individuals. We found no consistent evidence of correlations between traits in levels of FA, nor of any associations between known environmental or developmental conditions. None of the four measures of FA showed a significant heritability (average h2=0.041), nor was there any evidence of inbreeding depression. For three of the four traits, fluctuating asymmetry did not predict either annual or lifetime breeding success. However there were significant associations between breeding success and FA in antler length. Given the series of null results in our other tests, it seems likely that this was a direct mechanistic effect rather than because measures of FA were indicative of individual quality or condition.