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Evolution. 2002 Oct;56(10):1909-20.

Shape analysis of symmetric structures: quantifying variation among individuals and asymmetry.

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Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, Germany.


Morphometric studies often consider parts with internal left-right symmetry, for instance, the vertebrate skull. This type of symmetry is called object symmetry and is distinguished from matching symmetry, in which two separate structures exist as mirror images of each other, one on each body side. We explain a method for partitioning the total shape variation of landmark configurations with object symmetry into components of symmetric variation among individuals and asymmetry. This method is based on the Procrustes superimposition of the original and a reflected copy of each landmark configuration and is compatible with the two-factor ANOVA model customary in studies of fluctuating asymmetry. We show a fully multivariate framework for testing the effects in the two-factor model with MANOVA statistics, which also applies to shapes with matching symmetry. We apply the new methods in a small case study of pharyngeal jaws of the Neotropical cichlid fish Amphilophus citrinellus. The analysis revealed that the symmetric component of variation in the pharyngeal jaws is dominated by the contrast between two alternative trophic morphs in this species and that there is subtle but statistically significant directional asymmetry. Finally, we provide some general recommendations for morphometric studies of symmetric shapes.

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