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Keywords:

  • fallow deer;
  • Dama dama;
  • fighting technique;
  • rank;
  • age

Abstract

A population of 560 individually recognizable European fallow deer (Dama dama) was studied in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, during the rut in order to examine buck fighting technique in relation to age and rank. The percent usage and association among behavioural elements used were analysed in 162 fights and 82 sparrings. During fight sequences, high-ranking bucks tend to use a higher percentage of low-risk behaviours (all behaviours which do not involve antler contact), especially when they interact with lower-ranking deer. Fights between combatants of the same rank class show a higher use of high-risk behaviours (characterized by antler contact), and cluster analysis of a preceding–following matrix revealed that high-risk behaviours are closely associated with each other in these interactions. During sparrings, the low intensity of the interaction allows the deer to test their ability and strength using a higher percentage of behaviours which are generally considered high-risk, without risking injury. The data suggest that the percent usage and the sequences of behavioural elements performed in agonistic interactions are affected by deer rank, probably in relation to the different risks and benefits that different hierarchical positions can offer.