Developmental instability (DI), often measured by fluctuating asymmetry (FA) or the frequency of phenodeviants (fPD), is thought to increase with stress. However, specifically for stressors of maternal origin, evidence of such negative associations with DI is scarce. Whereas effects of maternal stress on DI have predominately been examined retroactively in humans, very little is known from experiments with well-defined stress levels in animal model systems. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of maternal exposure to three doses (plus a control) of a toxic compound affecting maternal condition on DI of their offspring in rabbits. Presence of maternal stress induced by the treatment was confirmed by a decrease in food consumption and weight gain of gravid females in the medium and high dose. Major abnormalities and mortality were unaffected by dose, suggesting the lack of toxic effects of the compound on the offspring. In spite of string maternal stress, offspring FA did not increase with dose. The treatment did lead to elevated fPD, but most were transient, reflecting growth retardation. Furthermore, a consistent association between fPD and FA was absent. These findings indicate that DI is not increased by maternal stress in this animal model.
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