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Age-specific feeding cessation in male red deer during rut


  • Editor: Virginia Haysen

Atle Mysterud, Department of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), University of Oslo, PO Box 1066 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.


Tactics for resource-use involve both using stored reserves (capital breeding) and feeding while reproducing (income breeding). In polygynous ungulates, males often use an income breeding strategy when young and shift to a capital breeding tactic at prime age. Little is known regarding why prime-aged males stop or largely reduce eating during rut but still remain inactive for as much time as before rut. A detailed exploration of how rumen content correlates with age and date may shed light on the ultimate causes of why some males stop eating. We provide quantitative empirical data on rumen content from red deer Cervus elaphus during the rutting season in Norway. In male red deer, rumen content declined with age, up to around 6 years of age. Above this age, rumen content was low and stable. A time-of-year effect on rumen content was best described with a second-order polynomial term, as rumen fill was lowest during mid-October when the mass loss of males and the ovulation rate of females both peak. We present two new hypotheses related to why males reduce eating (physical rest and parasite hypotheses). Two related patterns need to be explained and better documented: (1) why are resting times stable before, after and during rut, and (2) why do non-prime-aged males eat more between rutting activities?