Whiting, J.C., D. D. Olson, J. M. Shannon, R. T. Bowyer, R. W. Klaver and J. T. Flinders. 2012. Timing and synchrony of births in bighorn sheep: implications for reintroduction and conservation. Wildlife Research 39(7): 565-572.
Context. Timing (mean birthdate) and synchrony (variance around that date) of births can influence survival of young and growth in ungulate populations. Some restored populations of ungulates may not adjust these life-history characteristics to environments of release sites until several years after release, which may influence success of reintroductions. Aims. We quantified timing and synchrony of births from 2005 to 2007 in four populations of reintroduced bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) occupying two ecoregions (Central Basin and Range andWasatch andUinta Mountains) in Utah, USA,to investigatewhether bighornswould adjust these life-history characteristics to environmental conditions of the two ecoregions. We also compared timing and synchrony of births for bighorns in their source herd (Antelope Island) with bighorns in an ecologically similar release site (Stansbury Mountains) during 2006 and 2007. Methods. We relocated female bighorns to record birthdates of young, and observed groups of collared bighorns to quantify use of elevation by those ungulates. We also calculated the initiation, rate and timing of peak green-up by ecoregion, using the normalised difference vegetation index. Key results. We quantified 274 birthdates, and although only separated by 57 km, bighorn populations occupying the Central Basin and Range Mountains gave birth an average of 29 days earlier than did those on the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains, which corresponded with the initiation of vegetation green-up. Additionally, bighorn sheep on the Stansbury Mountains (ecologically similar release site) gave birth at similar times as did bighorns on Antelope Island (source area). Conclusions. Populations of bighorn sheep that were reintroduced into adjacent ecoregions adjusted timing of births to environments and green-up of vegetation in restoration areas. Timing and synchrony of births for reintroduced bighorn sheep in an ecologically similar release site were the same as those of their source area. Implications. Consideration should be given to the adjustment of timing and synchrony of births when reintroducing bighorns, especially when animals are released into different ecoregions. Also, biologists should select release sites that are ecologically similar to source areas, thereby reducing potential negative effects of animals adjusting timing and synchrony of births to environmental conditions of restoration areas.