Identifying the Incidence and Understanding the Causes of Pneumonia in Nevada's Bighorn Sheep

Herd of Nevada's Bighorn Sheep

Populations of bighorn sheep are known to experience dramatic die-offs associated with pneumonia outbreaks. Given Nevada’s long-standing commitment to re-establish bighorn sheep throughout its native range in the State and the potential of disease transfer between wild and domestic sheep, understanding the causes of pneumonia in wild sheep is critical.

Using genetic data to identify the type of bacteria that are present in the respiratory track and lungs of sick and dying sheep, new research shows that there may be an interaction between two different types of bacteria that leads to the development of pneumonia.  Partnering with Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) this project is assessing if the bacteria identified as causing pneumonia are regularly found in sheep from Nevada, both in sick or dead, and in healthy individuals.

This research is also investigating the relationship between occurrence of these bacterial species and level of lungworm infection and genetic diversity of individual sheep, since parasitic infection of the lungs and overall genetic diversity are expected to play a role in the capacity of an individual animal to mount an immune response. 

Using a combination of genetic techniques and parasite analysis, the project is identifing the co-occurrence of particular bacterial species with each other as well as other potential immuno-compromising factors such as high lung parasite loads and low genetic diversity in wild sheep populations of Nevada.