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Instability of Harems of Feral Horses in Relation To Season and Presence of Subordinate Stallions

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Male horses (Equus caballus) defend harems of females (bands) year-round and throughout their lifetimes. A male's lifetime reproductive success depends upon the number of females in his harem. Although harems have previously been reported as remaining stable over many years, during the two years of this study 30 % of the adult females in an island population of feral horses changed harems during late winter. The seasonal differences in harem stability resulted from seasonal differences in the abundance and distribution of food. The spacing between band members was greater and the frequency of social interactions between them was lower in winter than in summer. In addition, the amount of time devoted to grazing increased in winter. These differences are attributed to the lower availability of suitable vegetation duirng winter. Harem stability did not depend on the age of females, the size of the harem, nor the age of the harem stallion, but did depend on the presence of subordinate stallions attached to the band. All of the females that changed bands left single-male bands; multi-male bands were stable throughout the study.


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Affiliations: 1: (Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514, U.S.A.


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