As pneumonia continues to limit recovery of the once nearly extinct bighorn sheep population in the western United States, a research team including scientists from Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences has made key discoveries that lead to a better understanding of the disease and how it might be more effectively controlled.
At the beginning of the 19th century, bighorn sheep in the western United States, Canada and northern Mexico numbered an estimated two million or more. But by 1900, only several thousand bighorns remained—a result of extensive sport hunting, encroachment of ranch lands on their habitat, and disease.
Conservation efforts such as a drastic reduction in bighorn-hunting permits, establishment of natural parks and wildlife refuges, and reintroduction programs have stemmed the bighorns’ rapid decline. However, disease—particularly pneumonia—continues to be a principal factor limiting the iconic animal’s recovery across western North America.
An interdisciplinary research team that includes Huck Institutes Director Peter Hudson and scientists Raina Plowright and Kezia Manlove from the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State has recently published in the journal PLOS ONE and in the Journal of Animal Ecology several crucial discoveries about the dynamics of pneumonia in bighorn sheep that may help to inform ongoing conservation and management efforts.