Antlers are unique structures because they grow rapidly and are cast annually, representing an important energetic and mineral cost for deer. Variables related to the timing of antler growth, such as date of antler casting and length of growth period, therefore, should be affected by somatic resources and availability of food. We examined the effects of body and antler weight, age, and climatic variables, on antler casting date and the period of time antlers were grown as well as possible random effects of individual, year, cohort, and pedigree, based on 244 antlers in a population of 109 males of Iberian red deer (Cervus elaphus) over a 17-year study from 1999 to 2016. Body weight affected casting date, with heavier males casting antlers earlier than lighter males. Antlers also grew faster and were cast earlier among older males than young males. Antler weight influenced casting date and the duration of the growth period: males with heavier antlers cast them earlier and grow them faster than males with light antlers. Nevertheless, age and antler weight interacted; as such, older males grew their antlers slower and delay casting date because they produce heavier antlers, in contrast to younger males, where those with the heaviest antlers grow them faster and cast first. The date of the end of antler growth also influenced casting date, so that antlers that took the longest to develop were cast later than those that finished growing early. We conclude that older and heavier males cast their antlers earlier and grow them faster than younger and lighter males, likely to correlate the subsequent antler growth with the spring peak in plant nutrients, but that this early development is limited physiologically by the size of the antlers.
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Vol. 103 • No. 1