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A Dry Summer Diminishes Mate Search Effort by Pronghorn Females: Evidence for a Significant Cost of Mate Search


John A. Byers Department of Biological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA. E-mail:


In the 2 weeks before estrus, pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) females on the National Bison Range in northwestern Montana, USA usually move actively among several widely spaced, mature, site-faithful males in a mate search process that identifies vigorous mates. Typically, at least 90% of females practice this active sampling each year; each of the remaining females moves, before the rut begins, to a peripheral, isolated location with a single male and mates there without sampling. In 2001 and 2002, 90 and 100% of females, respectively, used the sampling strategy. The summer of 2003 was unusually hot and dry in western Montana. By September, when the pronghorn rut occurs, many pronghorn females were in visibly poor condition. In the winter that followed, 38% of females and 79% of males died, and in the following spring, only 17% of the surviving females gave birth. In the rut of 2003, 19% of females practiced the active sampling strategy. In 2004, 68% of females attempted to sample, even though there were only three mature males in the population. Among females that sampled, the number of switches away from harems and the number of males visited did not vary across years, except in 2004. The proportion of samplers in 2003 that died over winter was not different from the proportion of non-samplers that died over winter, and among the survivors, the proportion of samplers that completed gestation was not different from the proportion of non-samplers that completed gestation. The data suggest that pronghorn females have a strong motivation to sample potential mates, that sampling is abandoned when energy stores are low, and that yearly variation in the percent of females that sample is explained by variation in female condition.

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