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A thirty-three year study of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in their natural habitat revealed an unexpected plasticity in their reproductive pattern that was correlated with herd size. Females in this study population retained their offspring as yearlings (biennial reproduction) for the first sixteen years of the study while the population was stable or declining, whereas they did not retain yearlings (annual reproduction) for the next ten years while the population was increasing. Females again retained their offspring during the last seven years of the study when the population was either stable or decreasing. Offspring who are considered as retained are those who are allowed to remain within a few meters of their mothers at all times, who share food resources with their mothers, and who are allowed to nurse. Yearlings who are not retained (their mothers reproduce annually) are forced to remain many meters distant from their mothers, are unable to share food, and are never allowed to nurse. Individual differences were evident in females with respect to whether they reproduced annually or biennially. In some cases females reproduced annually for several years and subsequently shifted to a biennial mode of reproduction. In other cases, however, known individuals maintained a biennial pattern when the majority of the females were reproducing annually. Surprisingly, the rate of survival of both young of the year and yearlings was not affected by the mother's mode of reproduction. The data presented here support the idea that members of this population commonly reproduced every other year rather than that they reproduced every year, but often lost their offspring.


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