Research shows slight decline in big game antler, horn size

Feb 04, 2013
UW-Led Research Shows Slight Decline in Big Game Antler, Horn Size
Kevin Monteith, a postdoctoral research scientist with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, poses with a buck mule deer he harvested on an archery hunt in western South Dakota. Monteith led a research team that concluded the size of trophy horns and antlers of most species of North American big game has declined slightly over the past century.

(Phys.org)—A team of scientists led by a University of Wyoming researcher recently reported that the size of trophy horns and antlers of most species of North American big game has declined slightly over the past century, most likely as a result of intensive harvest of males.

Kevin Monteith, a postdoctoral research scientist with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Research Unit, conducted the study along with colleagues from Idaho State University, the University of Montana and state wildlife agencies in California and Arizona. It was published this week in The Wildlife Society publication, "Wildlife Monographs."

In analyzing more than 22,000 records compiled by the Boone and Crockett Club over the past 108 years, the researchers found a small but statistically significant decline in trophy horn and antler size for 25 categories of North American big game animals, including , moose and elk. The researchers, all of whom are hunters, then set about to find reasons for the decline, which was, on average, 1.87 percent for trophy antlers and 0.68 percent for trophy horns from 1950 to 2008.

UW-Led Research Shows Slight Decline in Big Game Antler, Horn Size

The most likely explanation, Monteith says, is that heavy of males may have resulted in a gradual shift toward younger males—in other words, fewer males are reaching large trophy size before being taken by hunters. The study also looked at the possibility that removal of the biggest-antlered and -horned animals has depleted the gene pool over the years, but the research found limited support for that hypothesis.

"If there were truly a over time, the decline may have been more substantial over 108 years, and we would not have expected increases in size among categories like that observed for pronghorn and ," Monteith says. "In reality, the changes were small and consistent with a gradual push against the age structure due to harvest of males."

Through careful analyses, the biologists ruled out several other potential causes of the decline, including climate change, habitat alterations, and the "sociological effect" of increased interest among hunters in submitting trophies to the record book.

While some people may be alarmed at any decline in the size of trophy antlers and horns, Monteith says he sees the study's findings as evidence supporting the North American model of wildlife management—which focuses on harvest of males over females. The system has largely maintained healthy populations of animals with subtle changes in trophy size. At the same time, the study shows that if wildlife managers and the public are concerned about the slight decline in trophy size, "our results suggest there's likely a pretty quick and easy fix—a slight lessening of harvest pressure on males."

"We're not trying to tell wildlife managers what to do," he says. "We're simply reporting the results from an impressive data set while offering some considerations for effectively balancing competing interests in overall opportunity for harvest and opportunity to harvest trophy males."

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

More information: To see the study, go to onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wmon.1007/full

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why are male antlers and horns so large?

Mar 19, 2007

Why are male ungulate antlers and horns so large? Darwin, when proposing his theory of evolution and sexual selection, suggested that the size of male ungulate antlers and horns may reflect male individual ...

Looking a trophy buck in the mouth

Mar 13, 2012

Researchers at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde have developed a more accurate technique than traditional methods for estimating the age of white-tailed bucks, said a Texas AgriLife Research scientist ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

11 hours ago

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

22 hours ago

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...