Context . Little is known about the consequences of sexual segregation (differential use of resources by the sexes outside of the mating season) for the conservation of large mammals. Roadways (i.e. the strip of land over which a road or route passes) are ubiquitous around the world, and are a major cause of wildlife mortality, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation. Many populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) occur at low densities and in a metapopulation structure. Roadways could affect movements of males and females differentially, an outcome that has not been considered previously.
Aims . We investigated the propensity of the sexes to cross a paved two-lane road and a single-lane, maintained dirt route and predicted that adult males, because of their life-history characteristics, would cross those roadways more often than females.
Methods . We investigated movements of male and female bighorn sheep from 1986 to 1990. We used a fixed-wing aircraft with an H-antenna on each wing strut to locate individuals each week from October 1986 to December 1990. We estimated the degree of overlap among 50% core areas of use by males and females with the utilisation distribution overlap index (UDOI).
Key results . We relocated male and female bighorn sheep on 948 occasions during sexual aggregation and on 1951 occasions during sexual segregation. More males than females were likely to cross both types of roadways during segregation, and the dirt route during aggregation. Propensity of males and females to cross roadways was strongly influenced by time of year (i.e. whether the period of sexual aggregation or sexual segregation). The lowest overlap in 50% core areas was between females and males during periods of segregation (UDOI = 0.1447).
Conclusions . More males than females crossed Kelbaker Road and the unnamed dirt route during segregation, as well as the unnamed route during aggregation. Both of those features could affect males more than females, and could result in reductions in the use of habitat or increased mortality of bighorn sheep from vehicle collisions as a result of spatial segregation of the sexes.
Implications . During environmental review, biologists should consider sexual segregation when assessing potential anthropogenic effects on movements of bighorn sheep. Biologists also should consider sexual segregation and how roadways, even lightly traveled routes, affect movements of male and female ungulates differently before manipulating habitat, translocating animals, or constructing or modifying roadways.