Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 4, pp 657–665 | Cite as

Fallow deer polyandry is related to fertilization insurance

  • Elodie F. BrieferEmail author
  • Mary E. Farrell
  • Thomas J. Hayden
  • Alan G. McElligottEmail author
Original Paper


Polyandry is widespread, but its adaptive significance is not fully understood. The hypotheses used to explain its persistence have rarely been tested in the wild and particularly for large, long-lived mammals. We investigated polyandry in fallow deer, using female mating and reproduction data gathered over 10 years. Females of this species produce a single offspring (monotocous) and can live to 23 years old. Overall, polyandry was evident in 12 % of females and the long-term, consistent proportion of polyandrous females observed, suggests that monandry and polyandry represent alternative mating strategies. Females were more likely to be polyandrous when their first mate had previously achieved high numbers of matings during the rut or was relatively old. However, polyandry was not related to the following factors: female age, the stage of the rut, the dominance ranks of mates, or the number of daily matings achieved by males. Polyandrous and monandrous multiple-mating females were not more likely than single-mating females to be observed with an offspring during the following year, and there were no significant differences in offspring size between these females. These results provide support for a fertility insurance hypothesis, with females remating if fertilization from the first mating was uncertain due to possible sperm depletion. The potential for different female mating strategies among large, polygynous mammals has generally been overlooked. Our findings highlight the complexity of female reproductive strategies and the possible trade-offs between fertilization success, preferences for high-quality males, and potential costs of polyandry, particularly for monotocous species.


Female mate choice Female mating strategy Good genes Offspring quality Sexual selection Ungulates 



We thank P. Cullen, D. Doran, H. Harty, N. Moore, F. Naulty, K. Nevin, C. Reynolds, N. Reynolds, K. Tipton, and many other volunteers. Thanks to S. Ciuti, M. Festa-Bianchet, A. Malo, B. Pitcher, K. Ruckstuhl, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We thank the staff of Phoenix Park and University College Dublin for their assistance. This work was supported by the Office of Public Works, the Department of Education and Enterprise Ireland to MEF during some of the data collection, and the Swiss National Science Foundation to EFB.

Ethical standards

The work described here complies with the current laws of Ireland.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2013_1485_MOESM1_ESM.doc (44 kb)
Table S1 Number of matings by females and males and number of individuals involved in matings for each age class, over the 10 year study (DOC 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen Mary University of London, Biological and Experimental Psychology Group, School of Biological and Chemical SciencesLondonUK
  2. 2.Wildlife and Behavioural Ecology Group, Hartpury CollegeUniversity of the West of EnglandGloucesterUK
  3. 3.School of Biology and Environmental ScienceUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  4. 4.Institute of Agricultural SciencesETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland

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