Publication Details

Courtney Jones, S. K., Munn, A. J. & Byrne, P. G. (2018). Effect of captivity on morphology: Negligible changes in external morphology mask significant changes in internal morphology. Royal Society Open Science, 5 (5), 1-13.


Captive breeding programmes are increasingly relied upon for threatened species management. Changes in morphology can occur in captivity, often with unknown consequences for reintroductions. Few studies have examined the morphological changes that occur in captive animals compared with wild animals. Further, the effect of multiple generations being maintained in captivity, and the potential effects of captivity on sexual dimorphism remain poorly understood. We compared external and internal morphology of captive and wild animals using house mouse (Mus musculus) as a model species. In addition, we looked at morphology across two captive generations, and compared morphology between sexes. We found no statistically significant differences in external morphology, but after one generation in captivity there was evidence for a shift in the internal morphology of captive-reared mice; captive-reared mice (two generations bred) had lighter combined kidney and spleen masses compared with wild-caught mice. Sexual dimorphism was maintained in captivity. Our findings demonstrate that captive breeding can alter internal morphology. Given that these morphological changes may impact organismal functioning and viability following release, further investigation is warranted. If the morphological change is shown to be maladaptive, these changes would have significant implications for captive-source populations that are used for reintroduction, including reduced survivorship.



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