Energetic stress and the degree of fluctuating asymmetry: Implications for a long-lasting, honest signal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Duplicate, bilateral structures of individual animals are usually symmetrical. In cases where such structures are asymmetrical, the degree of asymmetry may indicate the propensity of an individual to stray from the genetically programmed outcome during the development of the structure. Asymmetries have recently been assumed to constitute an honest signal of male quality and, as such, a cue for female choice. I tested the assumption that different rates of energy intake would produce differences in the degree of asymmetry by measuring original and induced fourth rectrices of both sides of the body in European nuthatches Sitta europaea. I found no predominance for the right or left side, thus showing the fluctuating nature of the asymmetry at a population level. This was not the case within individuals which consistently had a longer fourth rectrix on one or the other side of the body. Induced rectrices, grown during winter when food availability was relatively low, exhibited a higher degree of asymmetry than did such rectrices grown during winter after hoardable food had been provided earlier during the winter. The original rectrices, grown during relatively benign conditions in late summer, showed the smallest degree of fluctuating asymmetry. This indicates that the degree of asymmetry is affected by the rate of energy intake. Thus, male quality, reflecting the rate with which energy can be secured and shown by differing degrees of asymmetry, can be used as an honest, long-lasting cue by females in their choice of a mate.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • energetic stress, European nuthatch, feather growth, fluctuating asymmetry, intake rate, signalling, Sitta europaea
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-255
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1994 May 1
Publication categoryResearch