Craniofacial fluctuating asymmetry in gorillas, chimpanzees, and macaques

Ashly N. Romero, D. Rex Mitchell, Siobhán B. Cooke, Claire A. Kirchhoff, Claire E. Terhune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Craniofacial fluctuating asymmetry (FA) refers to the random deviations from symmetry exhibited across the craniofacial complex and can be used as a measure of developmental instability for organisms with bilateral symmetry. This article addresses the lack of data on craniofacial FA in nonhuman primates by analyzing FA magnitude and variation in chimpanzees, gorillas, and macaques. We offer a preliminary investigation into how FA, as a proxy for developmental instability, varies within and among nonhuman primates.

Materials and Methods: We generated 3D surface models of 121 crania from Pan troglodytes troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla gorilla, and Macaca fascicularis fascicularis. Using geometric morphometric techniques, the magnitude of observed FA was calculated and compared for each individual, sex, and taxon, along with the variation of FA across cranial regions and for each bilateral landmark. 

Results: Gorillas and macaques exhibited higher and more similar magnitudes of FA to each other than either taxon did to chimpanzees; variation in magnitude of FA followed this same trend. No significant differences were detected between sexes using pooled data across species, but sex did influence FA magnitude within taxa in gorillas. Further, variation in FA variance across cranial regions and by landmark was not distributed in any particular pattern. 

Conclusion: Possible environmentally induced causes for these patterns of FA magnitude include differences in growth rate and physiological stress experienced during life. Developmental stability may be greatest in chimpanzees in this sample. Additionally, these results point to appropriate landmarks for future FA analyses and may help suggest more urgent candidate taxa for conservation efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-299
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number2
Early online date27 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • developmental instability
  • geometric morphometrics
  • primate conservation
  • primates
  • variation


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