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The Ontogeny of Fluctuating Asymmetry

School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

We tested seven hypotheses regarding the mechanisms by which fluctuating asymmetry (FA) originates. We did this by analyzing data on four bilateral characters measured repeatedly during the development of individual domestic fowl. Immediately posthatching, there was substantial directional asymmetry, which rapidly decreased. We detected FA at significant levels in all characters in the majority of our measurements over the remainder of development. We also examined the effects of known environmental stressors (food and density stress) on levels of FA. At the levels we examined, changes in these stressors did not alter the degree of asymmetry we found in fowl. Time series of asymmetry for individuals did not exhibit regular oscillations, as much of the relevant literature predicts. Asymmetry levels reflected the combined effects of developmental noise, which was random in degree and direction, and feedback processes, which decreased asymmetry by altering growth rates on both sides of the body. Our findings best fit the predictions of the residual asymmetry and compensatory growth hypotheses, which suggest that levels of asymmetry reflect only recent growth history.