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Fluctuating Asymmetry and Body Size as Indicators of Stress in Red Squirrel Populations in Woodland Fragments

Luc A. Wauters, Andre A. Dhondt, Heike Knothe and David T. Parkin
Journal of Applied Ecology
Vol. 33, No. 4 (Aug., 1996), pp. 735-740
DOI: 10.2307/2404944
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2404944
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Fluctuating Asymmetry and Body Size as Indicators of Stress in Red Squirrel Populations in Woodland Fragments
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Abstract

1. In large parts of Europe, red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) live in fragmented wood-lands, where populations are small, and dispersal rate and genetic diversity are reduced. These small populations are, therefore, likely to have been exposed to substantial environmental and/or genetic stress. Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) represents a measure of the sensitivity of development to stress. 2. We examined the expression of FA in the hind foot (a non-sexually selected trait) of live-caught squirrels from two large and six small populations, of which we had data on population density, reproductive rate and genetic variation. 3. Red squirrels in woodland fragments were smaller and had a slightly higher degree of FA than squirrels from large forests. In fragments, heavier squirrels tended to have lower degrees of FA and reproducing females were less asymmetric than nonreproducers. Both relationships indicate that, in small populations, FA increased in poor quality individuals. 4. Interpopulation variation in the mean level of FA, however, could not be correlated with genetic similarity or with woodland quality. We conclude that FA in the hind foot of red squirrels is too variable to be a useful indicator of stress differences between populations.

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