Antler growth as a cost of reproduction in female reindeer
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionOecologia. 2019, 189 (3), 601-609. 10.1007/s00442-019-04347-7
The costs of reproduction are important in shaping individual life histories, and hence population dynamics, but the mechanistic pathways of such costs are often unknown. Female reindeer have evolved antlers possibly due to interference competition on winter-feeding grounds. Here, we investigate if variation in antler size explains part of the cost of reproduction in late winter mass of female reindeer. We captured 440 individual Svalbard reindeer a total of 1426 times over 16 years and measured antler size and body mass in late winter, while presence of a ‘calf-at-heel’ was observed in summer. We found that reproductive females grew smaller antlers and weighed 4.3 kg less than non-reproductive females. Path analyses revealed that 14% of this cost of reproduction in body mass was caused by the reduced antler size. Our study is therefore consistent with the hypothesis that antlers in female Rangifer have evolved due to interference competition and provides evidence for antler growth as a cost of reproduction in females. Antler growth was constrained more by life history events than by variation in the environment, which contrasts markedly with studies on male antlers and horns, and hence increases our understanding of constraints on ornamentation and life history trade-offs.