Copper (Cu) deficiency is associated with several disease syndromes, including poor growth, in farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus), but little is known of the consequences of low Cu levels in free-ranging populations. Low hepatic Cu levels have been documented in several wild red deer populations along the west coast of Norway, with the lowest values found on the island of Hitra. We studied the relationship between liver Cu concentration and slaughter weight in 63 red deer calves and 69 yearlings shot on Hitra during the autumn hunting season of 2009. Less than half of each age class had adequate Cu levels (>20 μg/g dry weight) and 14% of the calves and 28% of the yearlings had levels indicating deficiency (<13 μg/g). For yearlings, but not calves, there was a significant increase in slaughter weight with increasing hepatic Cu level. The differences between yearlings and calves could be linked to differences in physiologic Cu status of the two age classes, in that red deer calves are born with much higher levels of hepatic Cu than are their mothers. Our data demonstrate an association between low levels of Cu and reduced growth rate in a free-ranging cervid population.
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