• Environmental stress;
  • fluctuating asymmetry;
  • variability;
  • developmental stability;
  • biomonitoring

Trait variability (particularly fluctuating asymmetry) may provide a general measure of environmental stress applicable across taxa but consistent empirical support is lacking. Historically, stress effects were considered to act independently on trait canalization, developmental noise and trait size. However, in trait comparisons these processes are often assumed to be associated. Here we reconsider this issue and implications for detecting stress effects using trait variability. Published studies that consider multiple environments report little association between the effects of environmental variation on trait canalization and on developmental noise measured as fluctuating asymmetry, sug-gesting that environmental effects often act independently on these processes. To further test the usefulness of trait variability as an indicator of stress, comparisons across environ-ments should take a broad approach and report on several measures of trait variability, rather than focusing on only one index of fluctuating asymmetry as is commonly done.