Public Release:  Female deer confirm bigger is not always better when choosing a mate

Queen Mary, University of London

Female deer do not always choose the bigger and dominant males to mate with, scientists from Queen Mary, University of London and Hartpury College have found.

The research, which was undertaken in Dublin's Phoenix Park on a herd of fallow deer, focussed on females who chose not to mate with the 'top' males.

The study, published today (6 April) in PLoS ONE found that yearling females tended to mate with a higher proportion of younger, lower ranking males while older females actively avoided mating with them.

Alan McElligott, co-author on the study from Queen Mary, University of London said: "The findings of this study have important implications for assessing the effects of sexual selection on evolution.

"In the past, studies very much focussed on the 'big' males in these types of species and why the vast majority of females mated with them. We focussed instead on matings from the female perspective."

Scientists demonstrated that yearling female fallow deer mate later in the breeding season than older females, with the first yearlings not mating until eight days after the start of the season.

"This difference in yearling female matings meant that a small but consistent proportion of them do not mate with the "big and dominant" males each year.

"This indirect mate choice could result from yearling females recognising the difficulty in carrying a 'big' male's offspring to term, but it could also be because those males are worn out by the time the yearlings are ready to mate.

"There are many possibilities as to why the yearlings display an indirect mate choice, and inexperience and their smaller body size compared to older females could also be factors.

"This interesting mate selection gives us a unique insight into evolution, providing an explanation as to why we're not seeing the male deer rapidly increase in size over time."

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For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr McElligott, please contact:

Bridget Dempsey
Communications Manager
Queen Mary, University of London
E: b.dempsey@qmul.ac.uk
T: 020 7882 7454

Notes to editors:

"Assortative mating in fallow deer reduces the strength of sexual selection." Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018533

Photos available on request

Queen Mary, University of London

Queen Mary, University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with some 15,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London, Queen Mary's 3,000 staff deliver world class degree programmes and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three sectors: Science and Engineering; Humanities, Social Sciences and Laws; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Queen Mary is ranked 11th in the UK according to the Guardian analysis of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and has been described as 'the biggest star among the research-intensive institutions' by the Times Higher Education.

The College has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 100 countries.

Queen Mary has an annual turnover of £220 million, research income worth £61 million, and generates employment and output worth £600 million to the UK economy each year.

Queen Mary, as a member of the 1994 Group of research-focused universities, has made a strategic commitment to the highest quality of research, but also to the best possible educational, cultural and social experience for its students. The College is unique amongst London's universities in being able to offer a completely integrated residential campus, with a 2,000-bed award-winning Student Village on its Mile End campus.

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