Ivermectin decreases parasite load, testosterone, and potentially antler length in a group of captive red deer males (Cervus elaphus)

ESATTORE, Bruno, BUCZEK, Mateusz, DUŠEK, Adam, KOTRBA, Radim, PLUHÁČEK, Jan, CEACERO, Francisco, KOMÁRKOVÁ, Martina, BARTOŠOVÁ, Jitka, RADWAN, Jacek a BARTOŠ, Luděk. Ivermectin decreases parasite load, testosterone, and potentially antler length in a group of captive red deer males (Cervus elaphus). Research in Veterinary Science, 2024, 166, Article number: 105095. ISSN 0034-5288.
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Secondary sex traits (SSTs) can favour males in intra-sexual competition, allowing females to reliably assess their quality. They can also be connected to other aspects of fitness, such as resistance to parasites and pathogens, as parasites have negative effects on the development of SSTs. Antlers are one of the most recognizable examples of SSTs whose development is regulated by testosterone and reflects the actual condition of the bearer. Elevated testosterone can exaggerate the size of SSTs while impairing the function of the immune system (“The Immunocompetence Handicap Hypothesis”) posing a trade-off between antler development and immune function. In this study, we experimentally manipulated the parasite load in captive red deer (Cervus elaphus) males with Ivermectin during antler development for two consecutive years. Expecting an inverse proportionality between parasite load and antler size, we hypothesized the treated deer to have larger antlers than the untreated ones. Our results showed that, following the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis, parasite load was positively associated with testosterone levels. However, the application of Ivermectin suppressed the parasite load of the treated animals but did not lead to the development of larger antlers. Instead, it significantly suppressed the concentration of testosterone in the treated animals, whilst the animals that had higher testosterone also had the highest parasite load. Our findings show that Ivermectin can potentially decrease the levels of testosterone and, consequently, antler size. These findings have important implications for the management of captive populations, especially in contexts where the development of large trophies is desired.

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