Developmental Instability and Sexual Selection in Stag Beetles from Chernobyl and a Control Area


Anders Pape Møller Laboratoire d'Ecologie Evolutive Parasitaire, CNRS UMR 7103, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 quai St Bernard, Case 237, F–75252 Paris Cedex 05, France. E-mail:


Radioactivity may have both phenotypic and genetic effects through its disruption of physiological processes and mutations. I studied the size and asymmetry of secondary sexual and ordinary morphological characters of stag beetles (Lucanus cervus) in two areas in the Ukraine: near Chernobyl, where levels of radiation are high, and in a control area with low background radiation. Developmental instability of morphological characters was estimated from the degree of fluctuating asymmetry using the restricted maximum likelihood parameter estimation (REML) method to partition measurement error from asymmetry. The degree of asymmetry estimated from unsigned differences in size of right and left secondary sexual character was similar to estimates based on the REML method. Beetles from the contaminated area had a significantly elevated level of fluctuating asymmetry in the secondary sexual character compared with animals from the control area. Male stag beetles found with a female had significantly lower asymmetry than males found alone. While mated males did not differ in asymmetry between areas, unmated males from Chernobyl were much more asymmetric than unmated males from the control area. These findings provide evidence for radiation disrupting developmental homeostasis, and thereby affecting the mating status of free-living beetles.