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Role of patch size, disease, and movement in rapid extinction of bighorn sheep

Conservation Biology

By:
, , and
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2001.99488.x

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Abstract

The controversy (Berger 1990, 1999; Wehausen 1999) over rapid extinction in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) has focused on population size alone as a correlate to persistence time. We report on the persistence and population performance of 24 translocated populations of bighorn sheep. Persistence in these sheep was strongly correlated with larger patch sizes, greater distance to domestic sheep, higher population growth rates, and migratory movements, as well as to larger population sizes. Persistence was also positively correlated with larger average home-range size (p = 0.058, n = 10 translocated populations) and home-range size of rams (p = 0.087, n = 8 translocated populations). Greater home-range size and dispersal rates of bighorn sheep were positively correlated to larger patches. We conclude that patch size and thus habitat carrying capacity, not population size per se, is the primary correlate to both population performance and persistence. Because habitat carrying capacity defines the upper limit to population size, clearly the amount of suitable habitat in a patch is ultimately linked to population size. Larger populations (250+ animals) were more likely to recover rapidly to their pre-epizootic survey number following an epizootic (p = 0.019), although the proportion of the population dying in the epizootic also influenced the probability of recovery (p = 0.001). Expensive management efforts to restore or increase bighorn sheep populations should focus on large habitat patches located ≥23 km from domestic sheep, and less effort should be expended on populations in isolated, small patches of habitat.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Role of patch size, disease, and movement in rapid extinction of bighorn sheep
Series title:
Conservation Biology
DOI:
10.1111/j.1523-1739.2001.99488.x
Volume:
15
Issue:
5
Year Published:
2001
Language:
English
Publisher:
Wiley
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
Description:
8 p.
First page:
1347
Last page:
1354