Fluctuating Asymmetry in Body Traits Increases Predation Risks: Tawny Owl Selection Against Asymmetric Woodmice

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During the last decade, the study of fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in relation to different fitness aspects has become a popular issue in evolutionary biology. There has been much recent debate in subtle departures from perfect symmetry in bilaterally paired morphological characters, and the extent to which such departure actually reflects aspects of individual quality and fitness. We used data from pellet collection and trapping sessions involving the trophic system ApodemusStrix aluco, to test the hypothesis that asymmetric woodmice disproportionately fell prey to the tawny owl compared with “normal” woodmice. We found that woodmice preyed on by owls had significantly more asymmetric leg bones than survivors, particularly hind legs, those devoted to jumping. Thus asymmetry in locomotory traits apparently increased predation risks due probably to minor efficiency of asymmetric woodmice in evading predators or to their general low quality. These results suggest that FA affects fitness and consequently may be a good predictor of survival chances for woodmice, i.e. their quality; on the other hand, by removing asymmetric individuals, tawny owls can exert a stabilising selection on prey populations.

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