Biological and environmental influences on developmental variation of ungulates in variable environments
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Fundamental to lifetime fitness is the amount of body development that occurs during the life of an individual. This is especially apparent in long-lived species in which age-structured populations and sexual dimorphism affect breeding success among individuals. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on ungulates in order to understand factors that affect developmental variation within populations. However, much of this work has been conducted in regions in which metabolism - and subsequently body development - is influenced by photoperiod and environmental seasonality. Recently, several studies have demonstrated that increasing environmental heterogeneity at high latitudes has negatively affected ungulate population dynamics. My dissertation focused on understanding factors that influence skeletal and somatic development of ungulates across variable environments. Specifically, I addressed developmental variation at critical life stages (natal to adulthood) and highlight new findings on body development in two species of new world cervids (Capreolinae). My dissertation demonstrated that seasonal limitations to body development, considered pervasive in ungulate populations, are less present in populations that experience benign winter conditions and higher degrees of environmental stochasticity. The new insights gleaned from this dissertation are beneficial in understanding how populations of these biologically and economically important species may adapt to changes in local climate.