The landscape ecology of parasites and prey: habitat selection of Californiabighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis california) in the Okanagan Valley underexposure to Psoroptes ovis mite infestation.
In the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, California bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis california) populations have declined by 60% since 2011, likely due to a new mite infestation, Psoroptes ovis. These mites cause hearing loss and impaired awareness in wild sheep, possibly increasing their vulnerability to predation by cougars (Felis concolour). To assess this risk, data from GPS-collared bighorn sheep between 2014 and 2019 will be compared, in collaboration with the Government of British Columbia. Bighorn sheep are separated by highways, towns, and lakes, preventing transmission of mites from the east to the west side of the valley. Individual sheep survival, population growth and habitat use will be compared to infection status. An Agent Based Model (ABM) of movement-infection will explore the effects of landscape change on disease risk. This research will help wildlife managers understand sheep mortality and disease transmission, critical for conserving sheep populations in the future.