, Volume 174, Issue 4, pp 309-317
Date: 18 Feb 2004

Polygynous mating impairs body condition and homeostasis in male reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus)

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Abstract

Reindeer are polygynous ruminants that breed when plant growth declines in the Arctic. We studied seven males (2 years and older) in two herds with a total of 34 females to describe the costs and consequences of mating or rut. Body mass declined between September and November and did not recover through winter even though food was available ad libitum. Dominance did not affect body mass or any correlate of mass loss, indicating similar costs of rut among males. Males lost 34% of ingesta-free mass in 77 days of rut, which corresponded to depletion of 23% body protein and 78% body lipid. Water flux, plasma insulin, and plasma thyroxine were minimal 23 days after the peak in body mass, indicating low food intake. Maximum plasma testosterone and cortisol also followed peak mass and coincided with the death of two males from acute infections. Loss in body protein did not increase the ratio of urea to creatinine in plasma. Increased variance in plasma osmolality and urea during mass loss indicated altered homeostatic control during rut. Mating compromises survival of males through reduction of body reserves, food intake, and maintenance of tissues. These adverse effects may be the consequence of selection for large body size and aggression in a highly variable competition for mates.