Female–female competition over mates is often considered of minor importance, particularly in polygynous species. In red deer (Cervus elaphus), female–female aggression within harems during the breeding season has not been studied to date. Herein, we examined if oestrous female red deer in harems show elevated aggression rates, compared to when they are in harems but not in oestrous, and also when they are in foraging groups outside of the breeding season. Any increased levels of aggression involving oestrous females, could indicate the potential for female–female competition for mates in this species. We found that aggressive interactions among female red deer were clearly evident. The most common forms of aggression were displacements, nose threats and kicking. Biting and ear threats occurred less frequently, and chases were rare. There were no differences in the proportion of the different aggression types in the three social contexts. More importantly, we found
that the highest overall rates of aggression were for oestrous females in harems, and for females in foraging groups. The lowest rates of aggression were found in harems (when the focal female was not in oestrous). If high rates of aggression also occur when several females are simultaneously in oestrous within single harems, then it is possible that this aggression could affect either mate choice or mating order. These results suggest that female–female competition over mates could play a role in the mating behaviour of red deer.