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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]

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

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