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Survival and cause-specific mortality of desert bighorn sheep lambs

October 26, 2018

Juvenile recruitment in desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana) is highly variable, yet the mechanisms driving neonate survival are not well understood for the species. Few studies have equipped desert bighorn sheep lambs with radiocollars. As a result, definitive data on cause-specific mortality and lamb survival estimates are lacking. Our objectives were to estimate lamb survival rates and determine cause-specific mortality for desert bighorn sheep lambs during a period of mountain lion (Puma concolor) and coyote (Canis latrans) removal in southwestern New Mexico. We captured pregnant adult females each fall and fitted them with a telemetry collar and a vaginal implant transmitter to aid with neonate captures. We captured and radiocollared 12 desert bighorn sheep lambs in 2012 and 14 in 2013 within 48 hrs of parturition in the Peloncillo Mountains, New Mexico. We used the nest survival model in program MARK to estimate lamb survival to 6 months of age. Across both years there were 14 mortalities, 12 (86%) of which were due to predation. Mountain lions killed 5 lambs (2 in 2012 and 3 in 2013), coyotes killed 4 lambs (all in 2013), a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) killed 1 lamb in 2012; 2 lambs were killed by unknown predators in 2013. Staged-based survival estimates indicated the highest mortality rates occurred in the first week post birth; 33% to 36% of all lamb mortalities occurred before 7 days of age. Lamb survival was substantially lower in 2013 (0.20 ± 0.11 [SE]) than in 2012 (0.69 ± 0.16) with the differences in survival attributed to increased coyote predation in 2013. We did not detect differences in body mass, chest girth, or neck circumference between lambs that were killed by predators and those that survived. Coyotes, mountain lions and gray fox killed lambs <8 weeks of age, but only mountain lions killed lambs > 8 weeks old. Studies that fail to capture desert bighorn lambs near parturition will likely produce negatively biased survival estimates and inaccurate appraisals of primary causes of mortality due to early mortality of lambs.

Publication Year 2019
Title Survival and cause-specific mortality of desert bighorn sheep lambs
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21597
Authors James W. Cain III, REBEKAH C. KARSCH, Elise J. Goldstein, Eric M. Rominger, William R. Gould
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70204437
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle