Studies of bighorn sheep, a similarly hunted mountain species in America, have also suggested that selective hunting of older males can reduce genetic quality.
Researchers looked at three populations in detail and found that in neighbouring areas surprisingly different strategies prevailed; in one, the terminal investment strategy was dominant, in another, where older males were harvested at a slightly higher rate, the live fast/die younger strategy prevailed.
The group, led by Drs Stephen Willis and Philip Stephens, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, in collaboration with ecologists at the University of Sassari, Italy, used data from 15,000 hunted male chamois, collected since 1973, to explore their breeding strategies. They looked at the amount of energy males of different ages expended during the annual rut at several sites in the Italian Alps and found unexpected variation across populations.
Co-author Dr Stephen Willis said: "It seems that chamois can have fun in their youth or enjoy their old age but they can't do both. In one valley, males left it until much later to get involved in the rut but, once involved, they showed a pattern of increasing effort, right up to the end of their lives."
The team was able to see how much energy was expended by rutting chamois by looking at how the body masses of males changed throughout the rut period. They were also able to establish the ages of shot individuals from the number of annual growth rings in their horns. The speed at which the animals lose body mass shows how much effort males put in to establishing and patrolling territories, and fighting to defend their harem.
At a site with more hunting and a 'faster' pace of life, the team found that male weight loss during the rut was high, that chamois began rutting at an earlier age and that life-expectancy was lower. By contrast, at a site with a 'slower' pace, lifespans were
|Contact: Carl Stiansen|