A primary role of developmental instability in sexual selection

Michal Polak*, Phillip W. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


In evolutionary biology, fluctuating asymmetry (FA) is thought to reveal developmental instability (DI, inability to buffer development against perturbations), but its adaptive and genetic bases are being debated. In other fields, such as human clinical genetics, DI is being assessed as incidence of minor morphological abnormalities (MMAs) and used to predict certain fitness outcomes. Here, for the first time, we combine these complementary measures of DI in sexual selection and quantitative genetic studies of a natural population. Comprehensive multivariate analyses demonstrate that FA and MMAs in a condition-dependent sexual ornament, the male Drosophila bipectinata sex comb used in courtship, are sole significant targets of selection favouring their reduced expression in New Caledonia. Comb FA and MMAs are positively correlated, confirming that each are linked to a common buffering system. Ornament size and DI (as FA and MMAs) are positively correlated, genetically and phenotypically, contrary to theoretical expectation of negative size-FA scaling under the assumption that FA reveals overall genetic quality. There exists significant additive genetic variance for MMAs, demonstrating their evolutionary potential. Ornament DI in New Caledonia is markedly elevated compared with populations where such selection was not detected, suggesting that the increased population-level DI is capacitating adaptive evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3133-3140
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1629
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2007


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