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Fecal counts of lungworm larvae and reproductive effort in bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis


  • Fanie Pelletier,

  • Karen Ann Page,

  • Timothée Ostiguy,

  • Marco Festa-Bianchet

F. Pelletier, K. A. Page, T. Ostiguy and M. Festa-Bianchet, Dépt. de biologie, Univ. de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, PQ Canada, J1K 2R1 (


Because parasite resistance and reproduction require metabolic resources, life-history models predict a tradeoff between current reproduction and parasite load. These tradeoffs have been widely studied in birds, but few studies have been conducted on mammals. We monitored lungworm (Protostrongylus spp.) larvae counts in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) over four years to examine how individual differences in fecal output of lungworm larvae (LPG) by yearlings and adults were affected by season, sex, body mass, age and reproductive effort. We also compared lamb mass at six months and LPG. Overall, we found that LPG varies seasonally, peaking in females prior to lambing and in males during the rut. Age had no effect on LPG for either sex. During autumn, we found no effect of age or mass on LPG for sheep one year and older. Lamb body size or sex did not affect LPG. Females that weaned a lamb had higher counts than females that did not produce a lamb or females whose lamb died during summer. For rams, social rank and testosterone levels were not related to LPG but LPG increased with time spent searching for estrous ewes during the rut. Our results suggest a tradeoff between parasite resistance and reproductive effort in bighorn sheep of both sexes.