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Sociality, Mate Choice, and Timing of Mating in American Bison (Bison bison): Effects of Large Males


R. Terry Bowyer, Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, 921 South 8th Avenue, Stop 8007, Pocatello, ID 83209-8007, USA. E-mail:


We studied group size, composition, and mating activities in American bison (Bison bison) during rut on the Delta Junction Bison Range in interior Alaska, USA, in 1996 and 1997. Our purpose was to determine the effects of large males (≥5 yr old) on mating and associated activities. Groups with large males were larger than those containing smaller males. Most groups of bison were mixed-sex (90%), but large males occurred in only one-half of all groups. Moreover, females in groups with large males were more likely to copulate than those in groups with smaller males, indicating a female preference for large males. Nevertheless, our results are consistent with large males seeking out adult females for mating rather than vice versa. Mating peaked in mid-August during both the study years and was highly synchronous. Scent marking was coincident with mating, an outcome consistent with a hypothesis of such behavior triggering ovulation. Scent marking by large male bison occurred in both male–male and male–female contexts, but was associated most often with sexual activities. No differences in group size occurred with changes in weather or among vegetation types occupied by bison. Group size of bison, however, was larger with increasing distance from the forest edge, which likely was a response to predation risk in this predator-rich environment.