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Stags are slow starters when it comes to aging, but study shows they soon catch up

A study carried out by Edinburgh University and Cambridge University researchers has found that wild red deer stags' decline into old age is much more rapid than that in female red deer.The findings of the study were based on comparisons between the ability of male and female red deer to reproduce, as they got older. It was found that the initiation of the aging process occurs earlier in females- usually at 9 years. It appears that although stags start to age later- usually 10 years- the probability of successful reproduction in males drops rapidly, whereas females can go on reproducing late into their teens.The study found that despite a rapid decline in breeding success, males retain their antlers well into old age. It was also apparent that as female deer age, the size of their calves diminishes and are, thus, less likely to survive.Dr Dan Nussey from the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Recent research suggests that wild animals show signs of deterioration in old age, just like animals in captivity and humans, but this is the first study to look in detail at the impact of ageing on breeding in wild mammals. We were surprised at how complex the picture was: not only are there big differences between males and females, but the signs of ageing emerge at different times. More work is required to understand what is driving these differences. It all shows just how complex the ageing process is."Scientists looked at over 40 years' worth of data about more than 1,000 deer on the Isle of Rum. The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), supported by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and is published in the American Naturalist.Kristin Scott, West Highland Area manager for SNH, said: "SNH welcomes these interesting observations on ageing from this long-standing study of many generations of deer. The researchers have used this well known population on Rum where the stags and hinds live out their lives in the relatively unspoilt and undisturbed landscape of this spectacular island national nature reserve."For more information please contact:Dr Dan Nussey, School of Biological Sciences,Tel 0131 650 7702; Email Dan.Nussey@ed.ac.uk
James Beggs

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