Fluctuating asymmetry (FA), a ubiquitous type of asymmetry of bilateral characters, often has been used as a measure of developmental instability in populations. FA is expected to increase in populations subjected to genetic stressors such as inbreeding or environmental stressors such as toxins or parasites, although results have not always been consistent. We tested whether FA in four skeletal size characters and mandible shape was greater in a population of wild-derived mice reared in the laboratory and subjected to one generation of inbreeding (F = 0.25) versus that in an outbred group (F = 0.00). FA did not significantly differ between the inbred and outbred groups, despite the fact that these two groups differed dramatically in fitness under seminatural population conditions. As far as we know, this is the first study to evaluate the relationship between FA and inbreeding in wild house mice, and our general conclusion is opposite that of earlier work on laboratory inbred strains of mice and their hybrids. Size for two of the characters was significantly less in inbreds than in outbreds, however, and there was a significant difference between inbreds and outbreds in the signed differences of right and left sides in one character (humerus length). Some of the mice in both groups also were heterozygous or homozygous carriers of the t-complex. Because mice carrying this chromosome 17 variant are known to have reduced fitness, we also tested whether they had greater FA than mice carrying non-t-haplotypes. The overall level of a composite FA index calculated from all four characters was in fact significantly higher in the t-bearing mice. These combined results suggest that FA is not a generally sensitive proxy measure for fitness, but can be associated with fitness reductions for certain genetic stressors.
Corresponding Editor: J. Merilä