Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

No support for fluctuating asymmetry as a biomarker of chemical residues in livestock dung1

  • Kevin D. Floate (a1) and Paul C. Coghlin (a1)

Fluctuating asymmetries (FAs) are small random deviations between left- and right-side measurements of normally symmetrical traits in a given organism. Changes in FA have frequently been proposed as biomarkers for organisms exposed to stress during development and may have value for detecting low levels of chemical residues or other stressors in the environment. We tested this hypothesis in three replicated laboratory experiments and failed to find any effect of chemical residues (ivermectin) in cattle dung on levels of FAs (wing and leg traits) for the dung-breeding fly Scathophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scathophagidae). In trying to resolve this discrepancy with previous reports, we found that many studies failed to replicate measurements of FA traits within an experiment, which increases the likelihood of spurious positive results. Furthermore, experiments were rarely replicated either within or between studies, so the repeatability of positive results has usually gone untested. These issues have been raised by others, but are still not being adequately addressed. Discussions regarding the value of FAs as biomarkers will not advance until this is done.


Les asymétries fluctuantes (FA) sont de petites déviations aléatoires entre les mesures du côté gauche et du côté droit de caractères d'un organisme donné qui sont normalement symétriques. On a souvent proposé d'utiliser les changements dans les FA comme biomarqueurs chez des organismes exposés au stress durant leur développement; ces changements pourraient être utiles pour déceler des concentrations faibles de résidus chimiques ou d'autres facteurs de stress dans le milieu. Nous avons examiné cette hypothèse dans chacune de trois expériences répétées de laboratoire et n’avons pas réussi à trouver d'effet de résidus chimiques (ivermectine) dans les bouses de bétail sur les niveaux des FA (caractères des ailes et des pattes) chez la mouche Scathophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scathophagidae) qui se reproduit dans le fumier. En essayant de comprendre le désaccord entre nos résultats et ceux d'études antérieures, nous observons que plusieurs études avaient négligé de répéter les mesures des caractères de FA dans les expériences, ce qui augmente la possibilité de faux résultats positifs. De plus, les expériences étaient rarement répétées au sein d'une étude ou entre différentes études, si bien que la répétabilité des résultats positifs demeurait invérifiée. Ces problèmes ont été signalés par d'autres chercheurs, mais ils continuent d'être négligés. Les discussions sur la valeur des FA comme biomarqueurs ne pourront progresser tant qu’on ne tiendra pas compte de ces problèmes.

[Traduit par le Rédaction]

Corresponding author
2 Corresponding author (e-mail:
Hide All

Contribution No. 387-09036 from the Lethbridge Research Centre.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

W.U. Blanckenhorn , A.J. Pemberton , L.F. Bussière , J. Römbke , and K.D. Floate 2010. A review of the natural history and laboratory culture methods of the yellow dung fly, Scathophaga stercoraria. Journal of Insect Science, 10: 11. Available from 10.11/i1536-2442-10-11.pdf [accessed 29 March 2010].

N. Bonada , and D.D. Williams 2002. Exploration of the utility of fluctuating asymmetry as an indicator of river condition using larvae of the caddisfly Hydropsyche morosa (Trichoptera: Hydropsychidae). Hydrobiologia, 481: 147156.

H.A. Cárcamo , K.D. Floate , B.L. Lee , B.L. Beres , and F.R. Clarke 2008. Developmental instability in a stem-mining sawfly: can fluctuating asymmetry detect plant host stress in a model system? Oecologia, 156: 505513.

X. Chang , B. Zhai , X. Liu , and M. Wang 2007. Effects of temperature stress and pesticide exposure on fluctuating asymmetry and mortality of Copera annulata (Selys) (Odonata: Zygoptera) larvae. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 67: 120127. doi:10.1016/j.ecoenv.2006.04.004.

G.M. Clarke 1993 a. Fluctuating asymmetry of invertebrate populations as a biological indicator of environmental quality. Environmental Pollution, 82: 207211. doi:10.1016/0269-7491(93)90119-9.

G.M. Clarke 1993 b. Patterns of developmental stability of Chrysopa perla L. (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) in response to environmental pollution. Environmental Entomology, 22: 13621366.

G.M. Clarke , and T.J. Ridsdill-Smith 1990. The effect of avermectin B1 on developmental stability in the bush fly, Musca vetustissima, as measured by fluctuating asymmetry. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 54: 265269.

M. Dobrin , and L.D. Corkum 1999. Can fluctuating asymmetry in adult burrowing mayflies (Hexagenia rigida, Ephemeroptera) be used as a measure of contaminant stress? Journal of Great Lakes Research, 25: 339346.

K.D. Floate , and A.S. Fox 2000. Flies under stress: a test of fluctuating asymmetry as a biomonitor of environmental quality. Ecological Applications, 10: 15411550.

K.D. Floate , K.G. Wardhaugh , A.B. Boxall , and T.N. Sherratt 2005. Fecal residues of veterinary parasiticides: nontarget effects in the pasture environment. Annual Review of Entomology, 50: 153179.

K.D. Floate , P. Bouchard , G. Holroyd , R. Poulin , and T.I. Wellicome 2008. Does doramectin use on cattle indirectly affect the endangered burrowing owl? Rangeland Ecology and Management, 61: 543553.

G. Görür 2009. Zinc and cadmium accumulation in cabbage aphid (Brevicoryne brassicae) host plants and developmental instability. Insect Science, 16: 6571.

J.H. Graham , K.E. Roe , and T.B. West 1993. Effects of lead and benzene on the developmental stability of Drosophila melanogaster. Ecotoxicology, 2: 185195.

S. Hardersen 2000. Effects of carbaryl exposure on the last larval instar of Xanthocnemis zealandica — fluctuating asymmetry and adult emergence. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 96: 221230.

S. Hardersen , S.D. Wratten , and C.M. Frampton 1999. Does carbaryl increase fluctuating asymmetry in damselflies under field conditions? A mesocosm experiment with Xanthocnemis zealandica (Odonata: Zygoptera). Journal of Applied Ecology, 36: 534543.

H. Hempel , A. Scheffczyk , H.J. Schallna , J.P. Lumaret , M. Alvinerie , and J. Rombke 2006. Toxicity of four veterinary parasiticides on larvae of the dung beetle Aphodius constans in the laboratory. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 25: 31553163.

I.D. Hogg , J.M. Eadie , D.D. Williams , and D. Turner 2001. Evaluating fluctuating asymmetry in a stream-dwelling insect as an indicator of low-level thermal stress: a large-scale field experiment. Journal of Applied Ecology, 38: 13261339.

D.J. Hosken , W.U. Blanckenhorn , and P.I. Ward 2000. Developmental stability in yellow dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria): fluctuating asymmetry, heterozygosity and environmental stress. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 13: 919926.

E.G. Kokko , K.D. Floate , D.D. Colwell , and B. Lee 1996. Measurement of fluctuating asymmetry in insect wings using image analysis. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 89: 398404.

B. Leung , M.R. Forbes , and D. Houle 2000. Fluctuating asymmetry as a bioindicator of stress: comparing efficacy of analyses involving multiple traits. The American Naturalist, 155: 101115.

A.C. Liggett , I.F. Harvey , and J.T. Manning 1993. Fluctuating asymmetry in Scatophaga stercoraria L.: successful males are more symmetrical. Animal Behavior, 45: 10411043.

M. Maryanski , P. Kramarz , R. Laskowski , and M. Niklinska 2002. Decreased energetic reserves, morphological changes and accumulation of metals in carabid beetles (Poecilus cupreus L.) exposed to zinc- or cadmium-contaminated food. Ecotoxicology, 11: 127139.

J.A. McKenzie , and J.L. Yen 1995. Genotype, environment and the asymmetry phenotype. Dieldrin-resistance in Lucilia cuprina (the Australian sheep blowfly). Heredity, 75: 181187.

M. Mpho , G.J. Holloway , and A. Callaghan 2001. A comparison of the effects of organophosphate insecticide exposure and temperature stress on fluctuating asymmetry and life history traits in Culex quinquefasciatus. Chemosphere, 45: 713720. doi:10.1016/s0045-6535(01)00140-0.

M. Polak , R. Opoka and I.L. Cartwright 2002. Response of fluctuating asymmetry to arsenic toxicity: support for the developmental selection hypothesis. Environmental Pollution 118: 1928. doi:10.1016/s0269-7491(01)00281-0.

J. Römbke , K.D. Floate , R. Jochmann , M.A. Schaäfer , N. Puniamoorthy , S. Knaäbe , 2009. Lethal and sublethal toxic effects of a test chemical (ivermectin) on the yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) based on a standardized international ring test. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 28: 21172124.

L. Strong , and S. James 1992. Some effects of rearing the yellow dung fly Scatophaga stercoraria in cattle dung containing invermectin. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 63: 3945.

L. Strong , and S. James 1993. Some effects of ivermectin on the yellow dung fly, Scatophaga stercoraria. Veterinary Parasitology, 48: 181191.

V.H. Suárez , A.L. Lifschitz , J.M. Sallovitz , and C.E. Lanusse 2009. Effects of faecal residues of moxidectin and doramectin on the activity of arthropods in cattle dung. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 72: 15511558. doi:10.1016/j.ecoenv.2007.11.009.

J.P. Swaddle 1997. Developmental stability and predation success in an insect predator–prey system. Behavioral Ecology, 8: 433436. doi:10.1093/beheco/8.4.433.

K.G. Wardhaugh , R.J. Mahon , A. Axelsen , M.W. Rowland , and W. Wanjura 1993. Effects of ivermectin residues in sheep dung on the development and survival of the bushfly, Musca vetustissima Walker and a scarabaeine dung beetle, Euoniticellus fulvus Goeze. Veterinary Parasitology, 48: 139157.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Canadian Entomologist
  • ISSN: 0008-347X
  • EISSN: 1918-3240
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-entomologist
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *