, Volume 186, Issue 1, pp 117–128 | Cite as

Birth date promotes a tortoise or hare tactic for body mass development of a long-lived male ungulate

  • Eric S. Michel
  • Stephen Demarais
  • Bronson K. Strickland
  • Guiming Wang
Population ecology – original research


Maternal and early-life influences may affect life-long individual phenotype, potentially influencing reproductive success. However, some individuals may compensate for a poor start to life, which may improve longevity and reproductive success later in life. We developed four models to assess whether maternal characteristics (age, body mass and previous year cumulative lactation demand) and/or birth date influenced a long-lived mammal’s phenotype to maturity. We used a directional separation analysis to assess the relative influence of each maternal characteristic and birth date on captive male white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) body mass and antler size. We found that birth date was the only characteristic that persistently influenced male body mass. Depending on when offspring were born, they used alternative tactics to increase their body mass. Birth date positively influenced body mass at 1, 2 and 3 years of age-indicating males displayed faster growth and compensated for late birth (hare tactic). However, early-, heavy-born males were heavy juveniles, and juvenile body mass positively influenced mature body mass (slow but steady growth; tortoise tactic). Our findings provide a first evidence that a long-lived ungulate can display alternative tactics to achieve heavy body mass; individuals are either born early and heavy and are heavy throughout life (tortoise), or light, late-born individuals compensate for a poor start in life by growing at a faster rate to equal or surpass the body mass of early-born individuals (hare). Either tactic may be viable if it influences reproductive success as body mass positively influences access to mates in ungulates.


Birth date Compensatory growth Life history theory Maternal effects Path analysis White-tailed deer 



We thank the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) for financial support using resources from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. We thank MDWFP biologists W. McKinley, A. Blaylock, A. Gary and L. Wilf for their extensive involvement in data collection. We also thank S. Tucker as facility coordinator and multiple graduate students and technicians for their help collecting data. We also thank J. M. Gaillard and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This manuscript is contribution WFA-412 of the Mississippi State Forest and Wildlife Research Center.

Author contribution statement

ESM, SD, BKS and GW conceived the research idea. ESM collected and analyzed the data. ESM wrote the manuscript with SD, BKS and GW providing editorial advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

442_2017_4013_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (114 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 113 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric S. Michel
    • 1
    • 3
  • Stephen Demarais
    • 1
  • Bronson K. Strickland
    • 1
  • Guiming Wang
    • 2
  1. 1.Deer Ecology and Management Laboratory, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Forest and Wildlife Research CenterMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA
  2. 2.Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and AquacultureMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resource ManagementSouth Dakota State UniversityBrookingsUSA

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