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Ecotypic variation in population dynamics of reintroduced bighorn sheep

January 1, 2018

Selection of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) for translocation historically has been motivated by preservation of subspecific purity rather than by adaptation of source stocks to similar environments. Our objective was to estimate cause‐specific, annual, and age‐specific mortality of introduced bighorn sheep that originated at low elevations in southern British Columbia, Canada (BC ecotype), or in the Missouri River Breaks region of central Montana, USA (MT ecotype). In North Dakota, USA, mortality was similar and typically low for adult female bighorn sheep from Montana (0.09 ± 0.029 [SE]) and British Columbia (0.08 ± 0.017) during 2000–2016. Median life expectancy was 11 years for females that reached adulthood (2 yrs old); however, mortality accelerated with age and reached 86% by age 16. Mortalities resulted primarily from low rates of predation, disease, accidents, and unknown natural causes (<0.04 [upper 90% CI]). Similar survival rates of female bighorn sheep from female bighorn sheep from British Columbia and Montana, coupled with greater recruitment of bighorn sheep from Montana, resulted in a greater projected rate of increase for the MT ecotype (λ = 1.21) than for the BC ecotype (1.02), and a more youthful age structure. These results support translocation of bighorn sheep from areas that are environmentally similar to areas that will be stocked. Potential benefits include more rapid population growth, greater resilience to and more rapid recovery from density‐independent losses, an increased possibility that rapidly growing populations will expand into adjacent habitat, increased hunter opportunity, increased connectivity among herds, and a more complete restoration of ecosystem processes.

Publication Year 2018
Title Ecotypic variation in population dynamics of reintroduced bighorn sheep
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21381
Authors Vernon C. Bleich, Glen A. Sargeant, Brett P. Wiedmann
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70195292
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center