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Impacts of nutrition on reproduction in female red deer: Phenotypic flexibility within a photoperiod-mediated seasonal cycle

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 18:43 authored by Geoff AsherGeoff Asher
Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are widely distributed throughout cold northern temperate latitudes, where they have evolved to cope within highly seasonal continental environments. Naturalisation of red deer to the more moderate seasonal (but variable climatic) environment of New Zealand has been spectacularly successful, and they are widely farmed in the country’s pastoral environment for venison and antlers. The species is genetically programmed to exhibit photoperiodic control of voluntary feed intake, growth and reproduction, ensuring that energy demands are aligned with seasonally available resources and offspring are born in summer when climate is favourable for survival. However, despite genetic control of their endogenous seasonal cycles, there appears to be a strong ability for environmental factors such as nutrition to generate large phenotypic variation of seasonal traits. This may have contributed to their successful naturalisation to a wider range of seasonal environments than would be expected within their ancestral range. While precise timing of conception and duration of gestation length are the two fundamental mechanisms by which the strict seasonality of birth is maintained in seasonally breeding mammals, red deer exhibit considerable variation in both these traits. The present paper examines the outcomes of recent studies on farmed red deer on the impacts of lactation on conception date, the influence of nutrition during pregnancy on gestation length, and early life growth effects on the onset of female puberty. These studies have collectively demonstrated that while red deer are assumed to be under fairly rigorous genetic control of seasonality traits, they have a repertoire of phenotypic variation at various points of the reproductive cycle that may potentially allow a degree of adaptation to climatic variation that influences annual feed supply. This may explain the success of red deer in colonising a range of new environments that differ seasonally from their ancestral environment.


Rights statement

© CSIRO 2020


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Animal Production Science




Asher, G. W. (2020). Impacts of nutrition on reproduction in female red deer: Phenotypic flexibility within a photoperiod-mediated seasonal cycle. Animal Production Science, 60(10), 1238-1247. doi:10.1071/AN19040

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