Horn Growth and Reproduction in a Long-Lived Male Mammal: No Compensation for Poor Early-Life Horn Growth

Willisch, C. ; Biebach, I. ; Marreros, N. ; Ryser-Degiorgis, M.-P ; Neuhaus, P.

In: Evolutionary Biology, 2015, vol. 42, no. 1, p. 1-11

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    Secondary sexual traits in males of polygynous species are important determinants of reproductive success. It is, however, unknown if and how the development of continuously growing traits at different life-stages is related to reproduction in long-lived male mammals. In this study, we evaluated the relationship of early and late horn growth on social status and reproduction in long-lived male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex). For this, we analysed individual horn growth and assessed its effect on dominance and reproduction. No evidence was detected for compensatory horn growth, as late-life horn growth positively depended on early-life horn growth in males. Still, individuals with longer horn segments grown during early adulthood experienced a stronger age-dependent length decline in annual horn growth during the late development. Accordingly, a divergence between individual growth potential and realized horn growth late in life has to be assumed. Residual age-specific horn length and length of early grown horn segments both positively affected dominance and reproductive success, whereas, contrary to our expectation, no significant effect of the length of horn segments grown during the late development was detected. Suspected higher somatic costs incurred by high-quality males during their late development might at least partly be responsible for this finding. Overall, our study suggests that the total length of horns and their early development in long-lived male Alpine ibex is a reliable indicator of reproductive success and that individuals may be unable to compensate for poor early-life growth performance at a later point in life.