U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

Fallow deer polyandry is related to fertilization insurance

Elodie F. Briefer, Mary E. Farrell, Thomas J. Hayden, Alan G. McElligott
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2013 v.67 no.4 pp. 657-665
Cervus dama, females, males, mammals, polyandry, progeny, spermatozoa
Polyandry is widespread, but its adaptive significance is not fully understood. The hypotheses used to explain its persistence have rarely been tested in the wild and particularly for large, long-lived mammals. We investigated polyandry in fallow deer, using female mating and reproduction data gathered over 10 years. Females of this species produce a single offspring (monotocous) and can live to 23 years old. Overall, polyandry was evident in 12 % of females and the long-term, consistent proportion of polyandrous females observed, suggests that monandry and polyandry represent alternative mating strategies. Females were more likely to be polyandrous when their first mate had previously achieved high numbers of matings during the rut or was relatively old. However, polyandry was not related to the following factors: female age, the stage of the rut, the dominance ranks of mates, or the number of daily matings achieved by males. Polyandrous and monandrous multiple-mating females were not more likely than single-mating females to be observed with an offspring during the following year, and there were no significant differences in offspring size between these females. These results provide support for a fertility insurance hypothesis, with females remating if fertilization from the first mating was uncertain due to possible sperm depletion. The potential for different female mating strategies among large, polygynous mammals has generally been overlooked. Our findings highlight the complexity of female reproductive strategies and the possible trade-offs between fertilization success, preferences for high-quality males, and potential costs of polyandry, particularly for monotocous species.