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Background: Assortative mating can help explain how genetic variation for male quality is maintained even in highly polygynous species. Here, we present a longitudinal study examining how female and male ages, as well as male social dominance, affect assortative mating in fallow deer (Dama dama) over 10 years. Assortative mating could help explain the substantial proportion of females that do not mate with prime-aged, high ranking males, despite very high mating skew. We investigated the temporal pattern of female and male matings, and the relationship between female age and the age and dominance of their mates.

Results: The peak of yearling female matings was four days later than the peak for older females. Younger females, and especially yearlings, mated with younger and lower-ranking males than older females. Similarly, young males and lowerranking males mated with younger females than older males and higher-ranking males. Furthermore, the timing of matings by young males coincided with the peak of yearling female matings, whereas the timing of older male matings (irrespective of rank) coincided with the peak of older female matings.

Conclusions: Assortative mating, through a combination of indirect and/or direct female mate choice, can help explain the persistence of genetic variation for male traits associated with reproductive success.