Genetic correlations between sides and heritability of asymmetry for nonmetric traits in rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago

Janet W. McGrath, James M. Cheverud, Jane E. Buikstra

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The use of nonmetric traits for estimation of biological distance is a long‐standing practice in biological anthropology. Nonmetric traits can be scored using either the individual or the side of the individual as the unit of measure. If sides of the individual are genetically correlated the use of sides would produce redundant genetic information. For this reason, Korey (Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 53:19–23, 1980) argues for the use of individuals as the unit of measure for nonmetric traits. Ossenberg (Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 54:471–479, 1981), however, argues that bilateral occurrence of nonmetric traits indicates greater genetic liability for the trait and that therefore the sides are the more biologically correct unit of measure. Genetic correlations for 13 cranial nonmetric traits are estimated for a sample of rhesus macaque skeletons from Cayo Santiago. In addition, heritability of asymmetry is estimated for these 13 traits as a test of Ossenberg's contention that asymmetry is genetically influenced. Significant genetic correlations between sides support Korey's contention that nonmetric traits should be scored by individual. Only two asymmetry heritabilities were significantly different from zero, providing no significant support for Ossenberg's contention that asymmetry is genetically determined. Our results support the theory that asymmetry represents a measure of the ability of an organism to buffer stresses. Therefore, a measure of the heritability of asymmetry is a measure of the heritability of the ability to buffer stresses. This ability does not appear to be heritable in this sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-411
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1984



  • Asymmetry
  • Genetic correlation
  • Heritability
  • Liability
  • Nonmetric traits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

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