It has been suggested that fluctuating asymmetry (FA) is an indicator of perturbed development. Our study tests the validity of a fundamental assumption of asymmetry theory: that environmental stress imposed during development increases FA. We deprived tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) nestlings of food for 3 h every morning from days 3 to 15 of brood age. We obtained 2 repeated measurements of the right and left ninth primaries, outer rectrices, and tarsi, and one measure of body mass on days 8, 12, and 16. Food-deprived nestlings had significantly smaller character sizes (all characters for all days), significantly lower wing and tail feather growth rates, and significantly higher tarsal and mass growth rates than control nestlings. However, food deprivation did not cause experimental nestlings to exhibit significantly greater FA than control nestlings. Nestling mass and FA were not associated within treatments or across broods, and brood size had no significant effect upon the character size, growth rate, or FA level in nestlings. Measurement errors were small and size scaling, antisymmetry, and directional asymmetry did not confound FA estimates. Our results suggest that the ninth primaries and outer rectrices of tree swallows are unreliable indicators of FA-stress relations because of strong stabilizing selection for symmetry in this aerially insectivorous species.
Nest box checks, deprived nestlings of food