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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • horn;
  • hunting;
  • Ovis dalli;
  • phenotypic plasticity

Abstract

When phenotypic change occurs over time in wildlife populations, it can be difficult to determine to what degree it is because of genetic effects or phenotypic plasticity. Here, we assess phenotypic changes over time in horn length and volume of thinhorn sheep (Ovis dalli) rams from Yukon Territory, Canada. We considered 42 years of horn growth from over 50 000 growth measurements in over 8000 individuals. We found that weather explained a large proportion of the annual fluctuation in horn growth, being particularly sensitive to spring weather. Only 2.5% of variance in horn length growth could be explained by an individual effect, and thus any genetic changes over the time period could only have had a small effect on phenotypes. Our findings allow insight into the capacity for horn morphology to react to selection pressures and demonstrate the overall importance of climate in determining growth.