Evidence for individuality of odour profile, coding for individual identity, was sought in scent profiles derived from natural secretions of the preorbital gland of red deer Cervus elaphus (n= 26), sika deer C. nippon (15), fallow deer Dama dama (50), Chinese muntjac Muntiacus reevesi (23) and Chinese water deer Hydropotes inermis (53); from metatarsal secretions from red deer (n= 35), sika (30), fallow (193) and roe deer Capreolus capreolus (26), and from roe deer interdigital glands (n= 48). Volatiles were eluted from sample materials at body temperature, to restrict analysis to those elements that would occur within the natural odour signal; the different volatile elements were then separated by gas chromatography. For each species considered, secretions from at least one scent gland were individually distinct and sufficiently complex to code for identity. Within our samples no two individuals produced identical odour profiles; yet in analysis of metatarsal gland secretions of individual fallow deer sampled in successive years, odour signatures of individuals remained consistent over time. The wider potential for individual coding was assessed through calculation of the number of different possible combinations of all volatiles recovered in any species×gland system. Every secretion considered seems to have the potential to provide individually characteristic signals (with the exception of secretions from the fallow deer preorbital gland, which notably contained no odour information under any analytical system). Complexity of signals differed markedly between species as did the gland-type responsible for production of the most complex or distinctive signal. No simple evolutionary patterns are apparent to account for this variation and we suggest that the form of gland selected for production of a signal carrying information about individual identity is a function of habitat type and sociality.
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