Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
Home | Intranet | Digital Measures | Help

Evaluating adaptive capacity of desert bighorn sheep to climate change: identifying genetic links to climate adaptations in native and reintroduced populations


December 2014 - December 2017


The predicted increased occurrence of extreme droughts, overall decline in precipitation and increase in temperature due to climate change has the potential to impact a large number of species in the southwestern United States. In spite of their adaptations, both domestic and wild ungulates are not always able to ameliorate the effects of high temperatures and limited water availability using behavioral and physiological mechanisms. The genetic basis for many physiological mechanisms that confer greater abilities on some species, subspecies or populations of wild ungulates to cope with limited water supply and high temperatures remains to be explored. Thus, understanding potential adaptations of desert bighorn sheep in the 3 southwestern desert ecosystems with varying temperature and aridity conditions has the potential to inform vulnerability of populations to potential future changes in climate and other stressors. Specifically, identifying certain genes that may be related to the ecology of the different desert environments can provide valuable insights regarding future adaptation actions (e.g., translocations) as the climate continues to change. Our objectives are to: 1) Assess whether desert bighorn sheep exhibit local adaptations to the different desert ecosystems with corresponding differences in seasonal climatic conditions; and 2) Provide recommendations on how managers can implement adaptation actions to maximize evolutionary potential.

Research Products and Activities

Technical Publications

  • Cain III, J.W., C.W. Epps, M.R. Buchalski, and L.M. Thompson. 2015. Evaluating Adaptive Capacity of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Climate Change: Identifying Genetic Links to Climate Adaptations in Native and Reintroduced Populations. Annual progress report to USGS Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.Abstract |

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 2

Masters Students: 15

Phd Students: 5

Post Docs: 2

University Staff: 3

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 25

Scientific Publications: 52

Presentations: 161



  • James CainCo-Principal Investigator
  • Clinton W. EppsCo-Principal Investigator
  • Laura M. ThompsonCo-Principal Investigator
  • Michael BuchalskiNon-PI Collaborator

Funding Agencies

  • National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center


New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Cooperators

  1. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
  2. New Mexico State University
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  4. U.S. Geological Survey