Repeatability of size and fluctuating asymmetry of antler characteristics in red deer (Cervus elaphus) during ontogeny




Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) has been suggested as a measure of the sensitivity of development to a wide array of genetic and environmental stresses. It has been also suggested that antlers in red deer could be important during social and rutting displays. We used antler measurements of 51 males that were measured over subsequent seasons, from 3–8 years of age, and analysed three antler traits: antler weight, length, and the number of antler tines (antler size). We calculated absolute and relative FA. All three size traits were highly significantly intercorrelated. By contrast to this, the FA of the three traits, did not show such relationships. With increasing age, antler size and FA also increased. When testing the repeatability of FA and antler size, there was a principal difference in the pattern between FA and antler size, with the latter being much more consistent than the former. This suggests that antler size, not FA, may be a good predictor of the bearer’s quality in mate selection. This fits well with the good-genes hypothesis that the development of extravagant secondary sexual characters can be an honest advertisement of heritable male quality. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 91, 215–226.