The health of Colorado's bighorn sheep population remains as precarious as the steep alpine terrain the animals inhabit, but a new study led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder has found that inbreeding--a common hypothesis for a recent decline--likely isn't to blame.
Bighorn herds tend to be small and isolated in their mountain ecosystems, putting the animals at high risk for a genetic "bottleneck," said Catherine Driscoll, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at CU-Boulder and lead author of the study. Previous research has shown that inbreeding can weaken a population's immunity to disease across subsequent generations.
However, after using mitochondrial DNA data to analyze a diverse set of hereditary markers, researchers found that all five native herds in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) are maintaining healthy levels of genetic variation compared to other bighorn populations across the western United States.
"There's been enough gene flow between the herds, primarily due to high ram migration, that the population has been genetically rescued," Driscoll said.
The findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, suggest that other factors such as nutritional deficiencies, habitat fragmentation and competition from encroaching mountain goats may play a more significant role in depressing bighorn population growth.
The researchers used DNA testing to examine genetic diversity across five separate RMNP herds. In particular, the study zeroed in on the Mummy herd, which experienced a severe population crash in the mid-1990s and has been especially slow to recover.
Although the Mummy herd is maintaining healthy levels of genetic variation, it may still carry higher exposure to stress factors due to its proximity to roads and trails on the eastern side of RMNP.
Colorado's bighorn population has trended downward since the 1800s, including a sharp 10.2 percent drop between 2001 and 2009. Wildlife managers have occasionally transplanted bighorns from other states in an attempt to restore herd numbers.
In addition to RMNP, bighorns can frequently be spotted at popular viewing destinations such as Mt. Evans, the Colorado National Monument and near Georgetown along Interstate 70.
Jeffry Mitton, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder; James G. Driscoll, a researcher at the Blue Basin Wildlife Sanctuary; Corey Hazekamp, a research assistant at the University of Massachusetts; and John D. Wehausen, a research associate at the University of California San Diego, co-authored the study.
The National Park Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, the National Science Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance and the University of Colorado Boulder provided funding for the research.
Trent Knoss, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-735-0528
Catherine Driscoll | EurekAlert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences