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Mating systems and sexual selection in ungulates
New insights from a territorial species with low sexual size dimorphism:
the European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Abstract : The aim of this study was to use for the first time molecular techniques (microsatellite genotyping and paternity analyses), in combination with field ecology studies, to provide data on male breeding success and identify the main determinants of variation in male breeding success in two long-term monitored populations of European roe deer Capreolus capreolus (Bogesund in Sweden and Trois Fontaines in France).
The results show that males can sire up to 6 fawns per year and 14 fawns during their entire lifetime.
As expected from the low level of sexual size dimorphism and the territorial mating system of roe deer, variance in male lifetime breeding success, and so opportunity for sexual selection, are lower than in highly dimorphic species such as red deer Cervus elaphus, suggesting a low polygyny level in roe deer.
Males can successfully breed as young as 2 years of age, but breeding success of subadults is lower than that of older males.
Successful breeding among sub-adults may be restricted to those high quality males that are able to defend a territory.
Breeding success also tends to decline after 8 years of age (senescence), probably in relation to the loss of dominance.
Male body mass and antler size positively affect male breeding success.

It is known that antlers are used by males as a weapon in combats to defend their territory. However, my results also show that antler size is a honest signal of male phenotypic quality and may be used as a cue for rival males and females to assess male fighting ability, sexual vigor and/or phenotypic quality.
In addition, male access to females and male breeding success are positively related to territory size, but not to habitat quality within a male's territory. Hence, the territorial mating system of roe deer differs from the conventional resource defense polygyny system and seems rather to conform to a "low risk ­ low gain" strategy.

Finally, using paternity analyses, I also provide evidence that multiple paternity is likely, but infrequent, in roe deer, suggesting that multiple mating among females may have evolved as a means to enhance fertilisation success.
This study provides new insights into the evolution of mating systems and sexual selection in ungulates.
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Contributor : Jean-Michel Vanpé <>
Submitted on : Thursday, February 28, 2008 - 12:08:32 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 26, 2020 - 2:14:01 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 7:01:46 PM


  • HAL Id : tel-00259495, version 1
  • PRODINRA : 250868



Cécile Vanpé. Mating systems and sexual selection in ungulates
New insights from a territorial species with low sexual size dimorphism:
the European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). Ecology, environment. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III; Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 2007. English. ⟨tel-00259495⟩



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