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Sex differences in the consequences of maternal loss in a long-lived mammal, the red deer (Cervus elaphus)

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Abstract

In several primates, the presence of mothers affects the growth, survival and reproduction of their offspring, but similar effects have not yet been demonstrated in ungulates. Here, we investigate the effects of the mother’s presence in a population of red deer (Cervus elaphus) on the Isle of Rum, Scotland, which is the subject of a long-term, individual-based study. We compared measures of performance including antler growth in young males and age at first reproduction in females and survival of deer with mothers still alive against those that have lost their mothers (orphans). We show that orphaning both before and after weaning increases the risk of a natural death for both sexes. For males, no maternal benefit was detectable past 24 months of age while, for females, post-weaning benefits continued throughout life. Orphaning resulted in compromised male physical condition as measured by a reduced probability of growing antlers by 16 months of age while no evidence for compromised reproduction was found in females. These results support assertions that post-weaning maternal associations affect the development and survival of offspring.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Scottish Natural Heritage for permission to work on the Isle of Rum, the UK National Environmental Research Council for funding the project and the many dedicated field personnel for collecting the detailed data necessary to perform this study, especially Sean and Ali Morris, Martyn Baker and Fiona Guinness. We also thank Gillian Raab, professor emeritus at Napier University, for her helpful guidance with the survival analyses. This research was supported by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada CGS and MSFSS scholarships awarded to D. Andres, and an NSERC DG to K.E. Ruckstuhl.

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Research followed the standards set out by the UK Home Office.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Daniel Andres.

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Communicated by J. B. Silk

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Andres, D., Clutton-Brock, T.H., Kruuk, L.E.B. et al. Sex differences in the consequences of maternal loss in a long-lived mammal, the red deer (Cervus elaphus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1249–1258 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1552-3

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