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A Review of Hypothesized Determinants Associated with Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) Die-Offs

DOI: 10.1155/2012/796527

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Multiple determinants have been hypothesized to cause or favor disease outbreaks among free-ranging bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) populations. This paper considered direct and indirect causes of mortality, as well as potential interactions among proposed environmental, host, and agent determinants of disease. A clear, invariant relationship between a single agent and field outbreaks has not yet been documented, in part due to methodological limitations and practical challenges associated with developing rigorous study designs. Therefore, although there is a need to develop predictive models for outbreaks and validated mitigation strategies, uncertainty remains as to whether outbreaks are due to endemic or recently introduced agents. Consequently, absence of established and universal explanations for outbreaks contributes to conflict among wildlife and livestock stakeholders over land use and management practices. This example illustrates the challenge of developing comprehensive models for understanding and managing wildlife diseases in complex biological and sociological environments. 1. Introduction Effective management and conservation of wildlife populations can be undermined by multiple causes. These include decreased and altered habitat and other direct anthropogenic effects, climate change, competition and predation from nonnative wildlife and domestic species, demographic challenges associated with small populations, multiple, incompatible management objectives for sympatric species or their habitat, and exposure to native and exotic infectious agents [1–4]. The consequences and interactions of these variables are difficult to understand and predict, and may vary by circumstances. This uncertainty, particularly when it occurs in complex sociological environments where stakeholders have differing values and objectives, presents substantial challenges for decision makers. In such uncertain environments, the absence of data and differing values can result in polarized debate among stakeholders. It can also serve as an impediment to the acquisition of data that would contribute to effective management. Respiratory disease outbreaks in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) illustrate the challenge of identifying and managing disease in valued wildlife populations, where stakeholder perceptions and values clash [5]. Bighorn sheep are highly valued for recreational, ecological, philosophical, spiritual, and other reasons [6]. Bighorns have experienced a population decline of two orders of magnitude subsequent to 19th century settlement of western North

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