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Keywords:

  • body mass;
  • cost of reproduction;
  • density;
  • ovulation;
  • red deer

Summary

  • 1
    In large herbivores, the timing of breeding is important for females to hit peak plant protein levels. For males, the timing of reproductive effort is important to maximize the number of females they can mate during autumn rut in competition with other males. The latter depends on when most females are ovulating, but also on how other males with a different competitive ability are timing use of their capital (fat); it may pay younger males to invest more heavily later when prime aged males are exhausted.
  • 2
    Based on estimates of body mass loss, we quantify how much timing (start, peak and end dates) of male reproductive effort during rutting varies depending on male age, density and climate as well as timing of female ovulation.
  • 3
    Ovulation in adult females was delayed by 5 days from low to high density, and ovulation was also more synchronous at high density. The starting date of decline in male body mass was only later in yearlings than among other age groups. However, at low density, peak and end dates of rut became increasingly earlier and close to peak female ovulation with increasing age up to 7 years of age. Prime-aged males matched peak effort closely with peak rate of prime-aged female ovulation, while younger males were delayed. This is consistent with the view that younger males have a better chance when the prime-aged males are becoming exhausted.
  • 4
    Apart from yearlings, male age groups were synchronized in both the starting, peak and end dates of mass decline at high density. Thus, this partly follows change in female ovulation patterns, but also suggests that competition among males decreased with increasing density due probably to lower intensity of sexual selection. The lowered sexual selection may be due not only to more synchronous female ovulation, but also increasingly female-biased sex ratios and a younger male age structure with increasing density.
  • 5
    The onset of rutting is somewhat independent of male age (apart from the youngest males), but the peak and end of rutting effort is dependent strongly upon age, density and peak female ovulation. Male rutting phenology is thus best interpreted as a compromise between hitting peak female ovulation and intensity of sexual selection.