Title:  Antler Characteristics Are Highly Heritable but Influenced by Maternal Factors
Author(s): Eric S. Michel - Mississippi State University; Steve Demarais - Mississippi State University; Bronson K. Strickland - Mississippi State University; Trent Smith - Mississippi State University; Chad Dacus - Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
Year: 2016
Abstract: Discrepancy exists in previous reports of heritability estimates for antler characteristics as well as the use of yearling antler size to predict antler size later in life. Using data from up to 37 male pen-raised white-tailed deer reared on optimum nutrition we assessed the level of heritability of seven antler characteristics for males aged two to five years as well as whether yearling antler size was a good predictor of antler size at three years after accounting for litter size and birth date. We determined parentage using DNA analysis and assigned litter size from parentage. We used an animal model in a Bayesian framework to determine heritability and assessed predictability of yearling antler size with a linear mixed model. We found that all antler characteristics were highly heritable (range h2 = 0.634-0.846, 95% CI=0.492-0.891, n=218). Yearling antler size alone was a moderate predictor of antler size at three-years of age (marginal R2=0.385, P<0.001, n=50). Predictability doubled after accounting for birth date (range June 9- October 2) and litter size (range 1-3) (conditional R2=0.747, P<0.001, n=50). Although antler characteristics are highly heritable, managers should fully consider other potential sources of variation prior to use of yearling antler size to predict antler size later in life.

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