Delayed benefits for fallow bucks: more fights decrease same day mating success, but increase matings the next day


Dominance hierarchies help to reduce unnecessary fights and associated costs during the mating season. Fallow deer, Dama dama, typically have high levels of male–male competition and strong reproductive skew. Nevertheless, how male dominance and daily fight rates affect mating success is still uncertain. We used a 2-year data set from a large population of tagged fallow deer (620–689 individuals), to calculate male dominance ranks based on their agonistic interactions prior to the mating season (‘prerut’), to then examine how rank is related to fight rates and mating success during the mating season (‘rut’). Overall, higher-ranked males fought at least twice a day on a higher proportion of days during the start and peak of the rut and secured more matings than lower-ranked males. Males engaging in more than 10 fights per day were less likely to secure a mating that same day, and those males exceeding 15 fights per day secured no matings at all. Nevertheless, males with the highest numbers of fights (i.e. 15 – 21 fights per day) and higher proportion of won fights on a given day had higher mating success on the next day compared to those males fighting fewer than 15 fights per day. Although higher-ranked males secured most matings during the rut, their fight rates decreased towards the end. We propose that engaging in more fights negatively affects daily individual mating success but may benefit mating success on the following day and potentially increase long-term fitness benefits. Additionally, engaging in more fights as the rut progresses probably allows lower-ranked males to secure some matings before the availability of oestrous females ends for almost a year.


Bateman-Neubert, A., Briefer, E. F., McElligott, A. 2023. Delayed benefits for fallow bucks: more fights decrease same day mating success, but increase matings the next day. Animal Behaviour. 200. 37-48.

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