Bighorn sheep respiratory disease monitoring
October 2019 - September 2022
Glacier National Park provides refuge to iconic North American species, including bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), whose range covers diverse Department of Interior lands. Across this range, bighorns face the ongoing threat of a polymicrobial infection, Bighorn Sheep Respiratory Disease, which can reduce juvenile survival for many years, decimate populations, and lead to local extinctions. Although Glacier’s bighorns are thought to be free of the disease, a corridor of contiguous wilderness connects Glacier to populations that have tested positive for the most critical pathogen associated with this disease, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. As such, efficient biosurveillance programs are essential to anticipating and mitigating the effects of Bighorn Sheep Respiratory Disease outbreaks in Glacier National Park.
However, molecular screening for Bighorn Sheep Respiratory Disease is financially and logistically challenging, requiring physical capture and multiple lab assays. Such costs preclude large-scale, continuous biosurveillance, potentially missing detections and hindering risk assessment. We will address this issue by developing an animal-behavior-based, citizen-driven biosurveillance program for Bighorn Sheep Respiratory Disease in Glacier National Park. We are cooperating with Glacier National Park, U.S. Forest Service, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff on this project. We will provide the NPS with a tool to detect Bighorn Sheep Respiratory Disease and thus determine when mitigation strategies are necessary,