Intrasexual Competition and Mate Choice in Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep


Department of Biological Science, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83843, U.S.A.


Rocky Mountain bighorn (Ovis canadensis canadensis) rams employed three distinct mating tactics. When tending, rams defended single estrous ewes. In coursing, rams forced copulations with defended ewes, and, in blocking, rams sequestered ewes from more dominant rams. Ewes utilized a traditional area when tended, attempted to escape to this area when blocked, and resisted coursing ram attempts to force copulations. Between-year variation in the dispersion of estrous ewes about the tending area strongly influenced the consort and probably mating success of dominant rams. Thus, ewe spatial predictability during estrus — achieved by clustering in tended estrus and resisting blocking rams — appears to be an important mechanism of mate choice in this species. Ewes apparently did not gain material or risk-related benefits by mating dominant rams. That such males provide ewes with “good genes” is an attractive remaining possibility.