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FUNCTIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF FLUCTUATING ASYMMETRY AMONG ENDEMIC POPULATIONS OF GASTEROSTEUS ACULEATUS

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Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) has been used as a measure of developmental stability across many taxa, with asymmetric individuals presumed to have reduced fitness. FA has also been suggested for use in conservation biology as a measure of the health of populations. Here we assess the suitability of these uses of FA by using a novel measure of asymmetry in the bony lateral plates of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from 60 insular and endemic freshwater populations from the Queen Charlotte Islands. The frequency of asymmetric G. aculeatus individuals among populations varied from 1% to 76% with a mean of 42%. Extreme variation in the frequency of asymmetries among lateral plate positions within samples was also observed. Plates important to the structural integrity of predator defences were least asymmetric, either due to selection against asymmetry at these positions or to variation in the temporal development of the plates. These results emphasize the need for caution when interpreting differential levels of FA among traits in individuals and populations, as the differences may be due to variation in the strength or direction of selection for symmetry, and not exclusively to differences in fitness.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3020, Victoria, B.C. Canada.

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