Good-genes hypotheses predict that development of secondary sexual characters can be an honest advertisement of heritable male quality. We explored this hypothesis using a cervid model (adult, male white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) to determine whether antler development could provide an honest signal of a male's genetic quality and condition to adversaries. We compared antler, morphometric, hormonal, and parasitic data collected from hunter-harvested deer to characteristics of the Mhc-DRB (Odvi), the most widely studied gene of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in Artiodactyla. We detected associations between genetic characteristics at Odvi-DRB and antler development and body mass, suggesting that antler development and body mass may be associated with pathogen resistance in deer and thus may be an honest signal of genetic quality. We also detected associations between Odvi-DRB characteristics and serum testosterone during the breeding season, suggesting that certain MHC characteristics may help deer cope with stresses related to breeding activity. In addition, we observed a negative relationship between degree of antler development and overall abundance of abomasal helminths. Our observations provide support for the hypothesis that antler development in white-tailed deer is an honest signal of quality.
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