Modeling risk of pneumonia epizootics in bighorn sheep

Sarah N. Sells, Michael S. Mitchell, J. Joshua Nowak, Paul M. Lukacs, Neil J. Anderson, Jennifer M. Ramsey, Justin A. Gude, Paul R. Krausman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Pneumonia epizootics are a major challenge for management of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) affecting persistence of herds, satisfaction of stakeholders, and allocations of resources by management agencies. Risk factors associated with the disease are poorly understood, making pneumonia epizootics hard to predict; such epizootics are thus managed reactively rather than proactively. We developed a model for herds in Montana that identifies risk factors and addresses biological questions about risk. Using Bayesian logistic regression with repeated measures, we found that private land, weed control using domestic sheep or goats, pneumonia history, and herd density were positively associated with risk of pneumonia epizootics in 43 herds that experienced 22 epizootics out of 637 herd-years from 1979-2013. We defined an area of high risk for pathogen exposure as the area of each herd distribution plus a 14.5-km buffer from that boundary. Within this area, the odds of a pneumonia epizootic increased by >1.5 times per additional unit of private land (unit is the standardized % of private land where global x¯=25.58% and SD=14.53%). Odds were >3.3 times greater if domestic sheep or goats were used for weed control in a herd's area of high risk. If a herd or its neighbors within the area of high risk had a history of a pneumonia epizootic, odds of a subsequent pneumonia epizootic were >10 times greater. Risk greatly increased when herds were at high density, with nearly 15 times greater odds of a pneumonia epizootic compared to when herds were at low density. Odds of a pneumonia epizootic also appeared to decrease following increased spring precipitation (odds=0.41 per unit increase, global x¯=100.18% and SD=26.97%). Risk was not associated with number of federal sheep and goat allotments, proximity to nearest herds of bighorn sheep, ratio of rams to ewes, percentage of average winter precipitation, or whether herds were of native versus mixed or reintroduced origin. We conclude that factors associated with risk of pneumonia epizootics are complex and may not always be from the most obvious sources. The ability to identify high-risk herds will help biologists and managers determine where to focus management efforts and the risk factors that most affect each herd, facilitating more effective, proactive management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Montana
  • Ovis canadensis
  • bighorn sheep
  • decision curve analysis
  • disease
  • pneumonia
  • risk model


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