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Decline in wild populations as a result of anthropogenic impact is widely considered to have evolutionary consequences for the species concerned. Here we examine changes in developmental stability in the painted hunting dog (Lycaon pictus), which once occupied most of sub-Saharan Africa but has undergone a dramatic population decline in the last century. Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) was used as an indicator of developmental stability and measured in museum skull specimens spanning a hundred year period. A comparison with the more ubiquitous black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) revealed FA in L. pictus to be high. Furthermore, the data indicate a temporal increase in FA over time in L. pictus, corresponding to the period of its population decline. The high rate of change is compatible with genetic drift although environmental factors are also likely to be important. Lowering developmental stability over time may have direct fitness consequences and as such represents an unacknowledged threat to future resilience of the population.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Animals, Biological Evolution, Canidae, Endangered Species, Fossils, Phenotype