Antler size in red deer: heritability and selection but no evolution

Evolution. 2002 Aug;56(8):1683-95. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01480.x.


We present estimates of the selection on and the heritability of a male secondary sexual weapon in a wild population: antler size in red deer. Male red deer with large antlers had increased lifetime breeding success, both before and after correcting for body size, generating a standardized selection gradient of 0.44 (+/- 0.18 SE). Despite substantial age- and environment-related variation, antler size was also heritable (heritability of antler mass = 0.33 +/- 0.12). However the observed selection did not generate an evolutionary response in antler size over the study period of nearly 30 years, and there was no evidence of a positive genetic correlation between antler size and fitness nor of a positive association between breeding values for antler size and fitness. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that a heritable trait under directional selection will not evolve if associations between the measured trait and fitness are determined by environmental covariances: In red deer males, for example, both antler size and success in the fights for mates may be heavily dependent on an individual's nutritional state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Antlers / anatomy & histology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Body Weight
  • Breeding
  • Choice Behavior
  • Deer / anatomy & histology
  • Deer / genetics*
  • Deer / physiology
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Factors