Early life investment in antlers and body growth reflects adult performance in roe deer population under supplementary feeding conditions

Marta Peláez*, Isabel Sanuy, Juan Carlos Peral, José Luis Álvarez Esteban, Santiago Lavín, Emmanuel Serrano, Ramón Perea

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Recent research has challenged the idea that cervid antlers are such costly traits, supporting the assertion early-life antler investment is an honest signal of adult phenotypic quality. However, inferences were made based on antler measurements while growing (velvet) and thus, studies on fully-formed clean antlers are needed to avoid possible bias caused by the inter-individual variation in antler growth phenology. We studied a semi-captive population of European roe deer inhabiting a sub-Mediterranean area (Valsemana research station) and living under optimal conditions (ad libitum food supply and veterinary care). Based on repeated measurements taken from 146 individuals, we assessed whether allocation to secondary sexual traits during early life affected body mass or antler development during adulthood. Furthermore, we evaluated which body measurements better predicted future male quality. Additionally, using 488 individuals, we described age-class-specific variation in male body measurements and assessed the decline in antler size between adult and senescent stages (i.e. magnitude of senescence). Results agree with the assertion that there is no negative effect of a high investment in antler during early life on adult antler size or body mass, but we suggest the use of clean antlers as a more robust and reliable measure. The variables that better predicted body mass during adulthood were yearling body mass and body size at 6 months. Antler score between 10 and 18 months resulted in the best indicator of adult antler size. Finally, we support the idea that the magnitude of senescence in antler size is smaller in environments with higher resource availability during winter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-407
Number of pages12
JournalIntegrative Zoology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • antler size
  • body mass
  • early-life investment
  • Mediterranean environments
  • secondary sexual traits and senescence
  • trade-offs


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