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Effects of physical impairments on fitness correlates of the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus

Journal Article

Francesca Rubino, K. Oggenfuss, Richard Ostfeld

Physical impairments are widely assumed to reduce the viability of individual animals, but their impacts on individuals within natural populations of vertebrates are rarely quantified. By monitoring wild populations of white-footed mice over 26 years, we assessed whether missing or deformed limbs, tail or eyes influenced the survival, body mass, movement and ectoparasite burden of their bearers. Of the 27 244 individuals monitored, 543 (2%) had visible physical impairments. Persistence times (survival) were similar between mice with and without impairments. Mice with eye and tail impairments had 5% and 6% greater mass, respectively, than unimpaired mice. Mice with tail impairments had larger home ranges than did unimpaired mice. Burdens of black-legged ticks (
Ixodes scapularis
) were higher among mice with tail and limb impairments while burdens of bot fly larvae (
) were higher among mice with cataracts compared to mice without impairments. Our findings do not support the presupposition that physical impairments reduce viability in their bearers and are inconsistent with the devaluation of impaired individuals that pervaded early thinking in evolutionary biology.

Year of Publication
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
The Royal Society
0962-8452, 1471-2954