The relationship between tooth wear, habitat quality and late-life reproduction in a wild red deer population


Daniel Nussey, Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK. Tel.: +44(0)1223 336673. Fax: +44(0)1223 336676. E-mail:


  • 1Molar tooth wear is considered an important proximate mechanism driving patterns of senescence in ungulates but few studies have investigated the causes of variation in molar wear or their consequences for reproductive success.
  • 2In this study, we assessed molar tooth wear at death among red deer Cervus elaphus of known age on the Isle of Rum, Scotland.
  • 3First molar height showed a decelerating decline with age. In females, the rates of molar wear with age varied with location of home range and individuals experiencing low resource competition showed reduced molar wear. We suggest that this spatial variation in molar wear is related to differences in the availability of high-quality grazing habitat and levels of resource competition.
  • 4There was no evidence that females with more heavily worn molars had reduced reproductive performance late in life or that first molar height was associated with reproductive senescence.