Pneumonia in Bighorn Sheep: Testing the Super-Spreader Hypothesis
AbstractFollowing introduction of pneumonia, disease can persist in bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) populations for decades as annual or sporadic pneumonia epidemics in lambs. Recurring years of depressed recruitment due to high rates of pneumonia-induced mortality in juveniles is a major obstacle to population recovery. Management strategies for resolving this problem have so far been elusive. We are investigating the feasibility of removing individual “super-spreaders” to improve lamb survival. Individual variation in infection and transmission is well documented in human diseases (e.g. “Typhoid Mary”). We are testing the hypothesis that pneumonia epidemics in lambs are initiated by transmission of pathogens from a few “chronic-shedder” ewes. We have completed the first year of a 5-year project in the Hells Canyon region of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and in a captive population at South Dakota State University. Through repeated testing of free-ranging individuals in Hells Canyon, we have identified individual differences in shedding of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, a primary pathogen in the bighorn sheep respiratory disease complex. We also found that when penned separately in captivity, lambs of ewes that consistently tested positive (chronic shedders) were infected and died of pneumonia, whereas lambs born to ewes from an infected population that tested negative (non-shedders), were not infected and survived. Over the next 4 years we plan to 1) continue and expand testing of free-ranging and captive animals, 2) determine whether removal of chronic-shedder ewes improves lamb survival in free-ranging populations, 3) expand and replicate chronic-shedder commingling experiments in captivity, and 4) establish and monitor a new population founded with non-shedders from an infected population.
Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society [Abstracts]