We studied the effects of mountain lion (Puma concolor) predation on 2 translocated populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in New Mexico, USA. During 1993, 32 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (O. c. canadensis) were translocated to Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico, and during 1992–1993, 31 desert bighorn sheep (O. c. mexicana) were translocated to Sierra Ladron in central New Mexico. We monitored both populations from release through 2000 using fixed-wing aircraft and ground and/or helicopter surveys. We determined cause of mortality for radiomarked individuals (n = 26) and calculated survival rates, cause-specific mortality rates, exponential growth rates, and lamb:ewe ratios. The post-lambing population estimates in 2000 were 180 in Wheeler Peak and 21 in Sierra Ladron. Annual adult survival was higher (P < 0.005) in the Wheeler Peak population (0.955) than in the Sierra Ladron population (0.784). Annual lamb:ewe ratios also were higher (P < 0.001) in the Wheeler Peak population (66.7 vs. 29.8). Mean annual exponential growth rate (r) in the Wheeler Peak population was 0.25 compared to −0.01 for the Sierra Ladron population. Predation by mountain lions was the primary proximate cause (75%) of 16 known-cause mortalities of radiomarked bighorn sheep in the Sierra Ladron population, while we did not document any predation in Wheeler Peak. The annual cause-specific mortality rates due to mountain lion predation in Sierra Ladron were 0.13 for males, 0.09 for females, and 0.11 for all adult bighorn sheep. Mountain lion predation may have limited the Sierra Ladron bighorn sheep population and could be imposing a destabilizing inverse density-dependent mortality. Mountain lions preyed on domestic cattle in the Sierra Ladron area and throughout desert bighorn sheep habitat in New Mexico; we therefore hypothesize that cattle “subsidized” the diets of mountain lions (i.e., reduced or eliminated natural starvation). The ultimate cause of mortality for these desert bighorn sheep may be related to subsidized mountain lion populations that do not appear to decline following native ungulate population decreases. In addition, the encroachment of woody vegetation may increase the hunting success of ambush predators like mountain lions. High mountain lion predation may require mitigation for the successful restoration of bighorn sheep.
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Vol. 68 • No. 4