Weaning Conflict in Desert and Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis): An Ecological Interpretation

Authors

  • Joel Berger

    Corresponding author
    1. Ethology Group Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology; University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
      Conservation and Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, U.S.A.
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Conservation and Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, U.S.A.

Abstract

Field data on weaning behavior in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) were collected from populations in British Columbia, southern California, and one transplanted from the original B.C. study site to eastern Oregon. These areas were designated mountain, desert, and transplant, respectively. Seasons that were energetically stressful to lactating ewes were predicted. Summers were implicated for desert ewes; winters for ewes in colder and more seasonal northern environments. Although the temporal distribution of milk available to lambs varied between the three study populations, ewes generally weaned their lambs prior to the onset of the predicted stressful periods. In the desert, weaning occurred more abruptly than it did in the two more northern populations. The evolution of weaning strategies is discussed in subspecies of bighorn sheep based on proximate and ultimate factors.

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