Evidence for a trade-off between growth and body reserves in northern white-tailed deer
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We contrasted patterns of growth and accumulation of body reserves in autumn between two high-density (HD) white-tailed deer populations facing winters of different severity and length. Both populations occurred in the absence of effective predators and suffered from some forage competition based on reduced body masses. A third population living at low density (LD) and confronting long and severe winters (SW) served to distinguish the influence of food competition and winter severity on growth and body reserves. We estimated body components (water, protein, fat and ash) of deer during the first half of November and compared growth patterns between sexes and regions. HD-SW males continuted growth to an older age than HD males facing short and mild winters (MW) but females of both regions reached adult body mass at the same age. LD-SW deer exhibited a growth pattern similar to that of HD-SW animals but were the heaviest and the largest, suggesting that growth patterns are related to winter harshness (or length of the growing season) and that final body size is related to forage competition in summer. Sexual dimorphism became evident at an older age in the HD-SW population than in the HD-MW population, demonstrating that winter harshness does not affect immature males and females in the same manner. Fawns from the HD-SW population had proportionally longer legs and a higher percentage of body fat. Adaptations of immature deer to long and severe winters suggest that survival during the first winter represents the most critical step in the life span of northern white-tailed deer.
KeywordsBody size Fat reserves Food competition Population density Sexual dimorphism
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