Development of fluctuating asymmetry in tail feathers of the barn swallow Hirundo rustica

  • Moller A
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Fluctuating asymmetry represents usually small, random deviations from symme- try in bilateral morphological characters. The ontogeny of asymmetry in morpho- logical characters may reveal information about developmental processes in a general sense. I studied the development of fluctuating asymmetry in feather characters of the barn swallow Hirundo rustica, that are developed repeatedly during the single annual moult, with the following results. First, the side developing a larger feather was found to be partially biased, as demonstrated by one side consistently developing a larger feather under natural and experimentally induced growth episode events. Second, asymmetric feathers were found to consist of asymmetric daily growth increments, and the size of the increments developing under different environmental conditions were positively correlated. Third, fluctuat- ing asymmetries of feathers developing under different environmental conditions were positively correlated, although the level of asymmetry was larger under adverse environmental conditions. Fourth, individual asymmetries in tail length and growth bar length were unrelated to the duration of the developmental period, although late growth increments were smaller and more symmetric than early increments. These observations suggest that fluctuating asymmetry partially arises as a consequence of a random bias in the feather follicles and differences in environmental conditions during ontogeny of feathers.

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  • A P Moller

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