Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
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Does fluctuating asymmetry of antlers in white–tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) follow patterns predicted for sexually selected traits?

    Secondary sexual characters have been hypothesized to signal male quality and should demonstrate a negative relationship between the size of the trait and degree of fluctuating asymmetry because they are costly to produce. We collected morphometric and antler data from 439 white–tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Oklahoma, USA, in order to determine whether measures of antler asymmetry follow the patterns predicted for sexually selected characters. Relative fluctuating asymmetry was negatively related to antler size for all deer and within age groups up to five and a half years of age. We did not detect an association between asymmetry and antler size among deer that were six and a half years or older. When categorizing deer by antler size, we found that deer with small antlers (≤ 33rd percentile) had greater levels of relative asymmetry than deer with large antlers (≤ 67th percentile). The relative asymmetry of antlers was negatively related to age and was greatest in deer that were one and a half years old. Relative asymmetry was also negatively related to carcass mass, inside spread, skull length and body length. These data suggest that asymmetry in the antlers of white–tailed deer may be a reliable signal of quality and, as such, may be important in maintaining honesty in intrasexual advertisements during the breeding season.