Age, size, dominance and reproduction among male kudus: mating enhancement by attrition of rivals
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Size dimorphism with males larger than females has been related to the benefits for males of enhanced dominance and hence reproductive success. However, mating gains must outweigh the fitness costs of deferred reproduction and the mortality associated with further growth. The relationships between male age, size and reproduction were assessed for greater kudus (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Individually identifiable animals were monitored over 10 years, with detailed observations made during six breeding seasons. In the non-breeding season males formed loose all-male groups. Horn grappling and low intensity agonistic interactions fostered dominance rankings. Dominance was age-graded, until males reached full weight at 6 years of age. Males aged 6 and 7 years monopolized courtship and mating, but 5-year-old males secured about 10% of mating opportunities. Few males survived beyond 7 years. Male mortality rate rose steeply with age, so that the functional sex ratio of fertile females per mature male was about 14:1. During the breeding season many female groups remained unattended by a mature male. Reproductive sorting among males occurred largely through variation in survival to full size and maturity. Increased size enhances fighting success and hence dominance. Further growth ceases when the functional sex ratio exceeds the number of mating opportunities that males can effectively achieve during a breeding season. Predation amplifies the mortality cost of continued growth. In the absence of large predators, male-male interactions may be atypically exaggerated.
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