Ecological aspects of growth, reproduction and mortality in female red deer
Red deer, Cervus elaphus, inhabitating the bleak moors
at Glen Feshie (Invernesshire), had slow growth rates, and
hinds did not attain maximum body weight and condition
before six years of age. Skeletal growth, as measured by
jaw length, continued to slowly increase throughout life,
whereas body weight and condition declined in old age. Agerelated
differences in kidney fat weight explained some of
the variation in age-specific fertility and mortality rates
of lactating (milk) hinds.
Among individuals, fertility was positively related to
body weight and condition, and after controlling for these
two variables, was negatively related to skeletal size. The
probability of being fertile was related to age, and
differed between lactating and non-lactating hinds, as well
between years, independently of differences in body
Temporal variation in fertility at Glen Feshie, and on
Rhum, was explained by changes in population size.
Comparison of the weight at median fertility (0.5
probability) in five different populations indicated that
spatial variation in fertility was also density-dependent.
The factors affecting body weight were complex and
varied between populations. Spatial and temporal variation
in body weight was not density-dependent, but differences
in climate may have been important.
Like fertility, conception date, estimated from foetal
growth, was density-dependent at Glen Feshie. Long summer
growing seasons were followed by high fertility and early
conceptions. Estimated gestation length and calving date
were strongly related to weight loss during the shooting
season, which, in turn, was related to the biomass of new
The factors affecting mortality at Glen Feshie
differed between hinds and calves. Hind mortality, but not
calf mortality, was density-dependent. Winter severity
strongly affected calf mortality, but was of secondary
importance among hinds.