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Morphological variability and developmental instability in subpopulations of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) in Denmark

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Abstract Aim 

Local populations from different geographical regions may differ in the selection regimes to which they are exposed. Differences in environmental factors and population density may affect the relative importance of different selective forces (e.g. natural vs. sexual selection). We suggest a direction of investigation concerned with the developmental instability of morphological traits. The goal is to disclose putative small-scale geographical differences in the evolutionary forces, which may be hard to detect. Location 

Craniometrical investigations were carried out on ninety-eight skulls and teeth of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) collected during the period 1995–97 from three different populations in Denmark. One of these thrives at low population density, whereas the two others are characterized by high local density. Methods 

The skulls were investigated for developmental instability (DI) using fluctuating asymmetry (FA) as its estimator. FA was measured on canines, molars, premolar teeth and other skull and mandible traits. For the statistical analyses, we applied nonparametric permutation tests. Results 

Evidence was found suggesting differentiation among populations in mean degree of FA, and the FA values measured on canines were higher in the high-density populations. FA of the canines was significantly higher in males than females, in contrast to FA of the other traits. Evidence of a negative relationship between canine size and their FA was found, whereas no significant correlations were found between the molar and premolar teeth measures and their FA. Main conclusions 

Our results suggest that canines could be under directional selection stemming from intrasexual competition, which may be stronger in high-density zones. The other teeth investigated seem to be under a stabilizing regime hence their FA is mainly affected by environmental stresses. The negative relationship between canine size and FA found in males suggests the capacity of badgers to respond in an evolutionary way to environmental changes, despite the low genetic variability previously found at the molecular level.

Keywords: Fluctuating asymmetry; badger; developmental instability; population density; sexual selection

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Aarhus C, Denmark and 2: Department of Landscape Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute, Kalø Grenåvej 14, DK-8410 Rønde, Denmark, 3: Istituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica, Ozzano Emilia (Bo), Italy

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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