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Keywords:

  • bovids;
  • Caprinae;
  • methodological bias;
  • phenotypic characterization;
  • sexual selection;
  • ungulates;
  • weapons

Abstract

Monitoring programmes and studies focused on secondary sexual characters (SSCs) depend on the accuracy of measurements. However, methods of measurements of SSC, such as horns of ungulates, vary throughout the literature. Thus, the accuracy of horn growth measurements as proxies of true horn growth and the comparability of results inferred from different horn growth measurements may be questionable. We used the horns of Iberian ibex Capra pyrenaica to compare horn growth measurements and to analyse reliability with true horn growth. Our results reveal that measurements used in previous studies differed substantially from true horn growth and volume estimated as a barrel appeared as the best proxy of annular segments of horns in the Iberian ibex. Horn growth measurements are not necessarily mutually comparable, just as classical measurements are not necessarily representative of true horn growth. We discuss the wider implications of these results and suggest that biological processes linked to horns of ungulates should be reappraised using improved and accurate measurements because horn growth pattern is a key factor in sustainable management and conservation plans of ungulate species around the world.