Climate predictability and breeding phenology in red deer: timing and synchrony of rutting and calving in Norway and France
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- 1Timing and synchrony of reproduction are regarded as crucially important factors for fitness in seasonal environments. Natural selection has probably favoured temperate and arctic female herbivores that match reproduction with onset of plant growth in spring. However, breeding synchrony may also be affected by variation in phenotypic quality of females in a population, because females in poor body condition have been found to delay ovulation and subsequent calving.
- 2We compared breeding phenology, i.e. the timing and synchrony of rutting (roaring, sexual aggregation) and calving of red deer (Cervus elaphus L.) in France (latitude: 49°N) and Norway (latitude: 63°N). We hypothesized (H1) that calving and rutting were later at the site with latest onset of plant growth.
- 3We further quantified overall environmental predictability as the sum of annual constancy and seasonality and tested three different (not mutually exclusive) hypotheses about breeding synchrony: (H2a) the population experiencing most seasonal plant phenology should show the highest breeding synchrony; (H2b) overall predictability of plant phenology should determine breeding synchrony; and (H2c) breeding should be more synchronized in the population with lowest female body weight variation within age classes because they ovulate more synchronously.
- 4Calving and rutting, as well as onset of plant phenology, were later in Norway than in France, complying with the first hypothesis. Plant growth in spring was overall more predictable and also more seasonal in Norway than France. Hence we expected higher breeding synchrony in Norway than in France according to H2a and H2b. Variance in female body weight was slightly higher in France than in Norway, which should also cause more synchronized breeding in Norway than in France (H2c). Contrary to all predictions, variance in rutting and calving dates was around two times higher in Norway than in France.
- 5We suggest two alternative explanations of breeding synchrony. A more variable topography in Norway can make optimal birth date more variable on a local scale than in France, thereby maintaining a higher genetic variance for calving date in Norwegian red deer. Further, population age structure may play a role, as ovulation varies according to female age. Clearly, processes of breeding synchrony are far more complex than previously realized.