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Keywords:

  • bighorn sheep;
  • disease;
  • Idaho;
  • lamb mortality;
  • Oregon;
  • Ovis canadensis;
  • pneumonia;
  • population dynamics;
  • predation;
  • Washington

Abstract: We investigated the dynamics of 8 populations of a bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) metapopulation in Hells Canyon, USA from 1997 to 2003. Pneumonia was the most common cause (43%) of adult mortality and the primary factor limiting population growth. Cougar (Puma concolor) predation was the second most-frequent source (27%) of adult mortality but did not reduce the rate of population growth significantly. Most pneumonia-caused mortality occurred in fall and early winter and most cougar predation occurred in late winter and early spring. Average annual survival of adult males (0.84) was lower than females (0.91). Pneumonia was the most common known cause of lamb mortality (86%), and pneumonia-related mortality was detected whenever summer lamb survival was <50%. Pneumonia-caused mortality rates in lambs were high from 21 days to 91 days of age and peaked at 42 days to 70 days. Summer pneumonia epizootics in lambs were independent of pneumonia-caused mortality in adults. Pneumonia-caused mortality occurred at the population level and was not synchronized geographically or temporally among populations. Although catastrophic all-age pneumonia-epizootics have previously been described in bighorn sheep, we found that chronic, although sporadic, pneumonia-caused mortality in adults and lambs can also have important effects on the dynamics of bighorn sheep populations.