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Volume 83, Issue 6


Reproductive senescence in free-ranging North American elk Cervus elaphus Cervidae

Louis C. Bender
  • Corresponding author
  • Extension Animal Sciences and Natural Resources, New Mexico State University, P.O. Box 30003 MSC 3AE, Las Cruces, NM, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Jessica R. Piasecke
  • Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, New Mexico State University, P.O. Box 30003 MSC 3001, Las Cruces, NM, USA
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2019-03-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mammalia-2018-0076


Successful production of calves is necessary for growth of North American elk (Cervus elaphus Linnaeus 1758) populations, but few studies have evaluated age-related effects on both the conception and survival of a calf to weaning in multiple free-ranging populations. Conception and survival of calves to weaning were both affected by maternal age, with old (age 9 and older) females showing reproductive senescence as compared to prime-aged (ages 2–8) females despite achieving similar or greater size and condition. Reproductive senescence in our free-ranging populations ultimately resulted in old females weaning fewer calves (0.42 calves/female) than did prime-aged females (0.64 calves/female). Other factors, especially maternal size, also influenced conception and survival to weaning, and these interacted with age in a consistent manner, i.e. larger females or females in better condition were more likely to conceive and successfully wean calves within each age class. Female age structure receives less consideration in ungulate management than does male age structure, despite demonstrated impacts on population productivity of multiple species because of reproductive senescence. Because of the large proportion of individuals in senesced age classes in elk populations, low productivity in populations may simply reflect female age structure, rather than other frequently hypothesized factors.

Keywords: age; calf survival; Cervus elaphus; conception; elk; fecundity; reproduction; size


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About the article

Received: 2018-04-25

Accepted: 2019-01-15

Published Online: 2019-03-07

Published in Print: 2019-11-26

Citation Information: Mammalia, Volume 83, Issue 6, Pages 593–600, ISSN (Online) 1864-1547, ISSN (Print) 0025-1461, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mammalia-2018-0076.

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