The use of fluctuating asymmetry (FA) for biomonitoring environmental stress is limited by the lack of work on how FA in particular traits responds to specific stresses. Here, by manipulating the number of individuals in an enclosed fallow deer (Dama dama) population, we describe, for the first time, clear density dependence in the FA of juvenile jaw morphology. The impact of high population density on FA was strong for both sexes, supporting the use of FA for indexing environmental stress. In addition, there was some indication that the change in FA was greater in males (43.6%) than females (28.5%). Finally, the ability to buffer density-dependent stress was independent of body condition. We suggest that, under highly limiting conditions, whole cohorts may be unable to buffer against developmental error, irrespective of individual quality.
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