Persistent influences of birth date on dominance, growth and reproductive success in bison

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Abstract

Long-term influences of birth date were examined in bison (Bison bison) over a nine-year period. Variation in birth date was related to differences in individual quality in both juveniles and adults. Earlier-born animals of both sexes were socially dominant to their later-born peers. Earlier-born females showed greater long-term fecundity. Long-term growth patterns also varied with birth date, earlier-born animals being larger. In females the relationship between body weight and birth date was significant as late as the eighth year of life, whereas in males effects on growth were weaker. For mothers, late parturition imposed immediate costs, increasing the likelihood of subsequent reproductive failure. There was no evidence that calving date varied with maternal condition, except that old females bore their last calves unusually late. These findings suggest that, in seasonally breeding ungulates, the benefits of early birth persist well into adulthood and have fitness consequences.

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