For a large healthy individual or large healthy population proper minerals are crucial.

Some thought experiments on bighorn sheep and minerals

Sep 03, 2019

There are many issues that one can explore when dealing with bighorn sheep and minerals. Some of these are in the realm of established science but few if any have been applied. I believe it is the volunteer organizations that will eventually bridge the gap between the knowledge we already have and applying it to the various meta-populations. When this occurs we will experience a feedback loop where the success of this applied knowledge will encourage us to learn more and do more about minerals. It is through this process that we will make significant increase in the number of bighorn sheep and repopulate places where they have been absent for many generations.

We will start these thought experiments by describing an idealized habitat for desert bighorn sheep. Of course a real habitat will have variations and complexities that we don’t need to deal with in these thought experiments. Like so many thought experiments we attempt through simplification to understand the complex. The reason for using desert bighorn sheep in this thought experiment is it will be generally easier to visualize a desert bighorn sheep habitat as opposed to an Alpine Mountain habitat, although we will explore some attributes and possibilities that exist in Alpine wild sheep habitat as well.

Our thought experiment habitat will consist of a mountain range that is 50 miles long and runs North and South and is 10 miles wide. On the extreme north end it will have a stable clean water source with a separate yet close by geologic mineral source. The minerals consist of all necessary and advantageous minerals such as selenium salt copper and calcium and so on. This environment will also have a water/mineral source on the south end. It will be similar to the one on the North, that is to say it will have good clean stable water with the nearby geological mineral source that has an abundance of all the necessary elements for good health such as selenium copper salts and calcium. However this mineral source on the south end will also contain measurable amount of elements such as lead Mercury and arsenic.

Now let’s discuss our first thought experiment, we will start with a group of sheep entering an empty habitat thousands of years ago. As they spread out across this habitat and multiply eventually they fill the habitat to capacity. Due to the width and length of this habitat some individual animals would cover the entire habitat in their yearly wanderings while most would tend to stay on one half or the other. For the sake of this thought experiment will have those animals on the south end of the habitat suffering a chronic but not acute symptoms from the lead Mercury and arsenic that is in their mineral source. We can also imagine that when the sheep first colonized this habitat they did not prefer one mineral source over the other though they could taste and perhaps smell the difference. Over time evolutionary processes would’ve eventually have their effect. In this case animals that like the taste of the southern mineral source would tend to die in larger numbers during droughts and severe winters. This would go on till one of two things would happen. Either the southern mineral source would no longer be used due to the fact that the surviving lineage of sheep no longer liked the smell or taste of the southern mineral source. Or perhaps to some degree or another they would develop a resiliency to those toxic elements. All wildlife populations that are isolated or semi-isolated will show some degree of evolutionary adaptation to their particular habitat. So it is we see all sorts of variations in the meta-populations of wild sheep that exist today. So one has to consider if this population wild sheep is wiped out, and then reintroduced, wheather through a natural process or artificially it will have to endure numerous generations of evolution before it is genetically tuned to its specific habitat once again. In light of this, a proper modern management program for a newly established meta-population would take minerals into account for both short and long-term management plans. Currently I know of no existing programs or awareness of this issue for newly transplanted or expanded populations.

Now let’s go through our second thought experiment, in this experiment will start with the same habitat full of sheep with an ancient well acclimated population. Like many real wild sheep populations, our thought experiment sheep population would’ve have seen wave after wave of changes in the environment during the last two centuries. Changes such as the introduction of cattle Horses, Burros, Domestic Sheep, and a wide range of exotic plants. So numerous and extensive are these changes that they often obscure the true effects of one another. If we imagined a flight over our thought experiment habitat in the year 1800 and then once again in the year 2000 there might be a significant change that we could see from the air, and that would be roads and mines. This kind of disturbance create pulverized rock and rips away topsoil thus exposing mineral rich earth. This could be a significant or insignificant change in this habitat for the wild sheep. Currently I know of no habitat that has had definitive studies to figure this out. No doubt this is due in large part to the other more noticeable calamities that have affected wild sheep populations and their habitat. If roads and mining operations has filled a given sheep habitat with detrimental minerals nobody really knows. Over the years I have observed some intriguing situations that seem to point to toxicity however without proper geographically specific scientific studies one can only speculate, all the while there is no beneficial action that can be taken.

Now for our third thought experiment, let’s once again go to our hypothetical desert bighorn sheep population and their habitat. In this thought experiment will imagine that the North spring, that is the one with only good minerals goes dry for about two or three months every summer. This is a fairly common occurrence for many desert springs. This of course would require that the entire population rely on the south spring for water and it’s detrimental mineral source for these summer months. This would reduce the health of the entire population and probably the overall carrying capacity of that habitat. Without having a definitive knowledge of these two mineral sources the reason for the lower carrying capacity would go unnoticed, leading people to believe the problem is the lack of water. Which it is but only in light of the waters strategic location to the mineral source. Another way of expressing this would be, if an artificial water source was put in the middle of the habitat the sheep might still use the detrimental mineral source primarily or exclusively. Another thing to consider is that the seasonal fluctuation in minerals would affect the evolutionary process of this population in a wide range of possibilities. As an example it might influence the plants they choose to eat and when they eat them. This might manifest itself in this population choosing the eat certain water rich plants that grow in the vicinity of the now dry North water/mineral source, to prolong their stay at the good and perhaps better tasting mineral source. Or perhaps consume plants that balance out the effects of the detrimental water/mineral source on the south end. Here again I would reiterate there is no meta-population that I know of that has this type of knowledge associated with it.

Now for our fourth thought experiment let’s consider the effects of minerals on the transmission and lethality of diseases. For this thought experiment will use the same desert bighorn sheep habitat with an ancient well tuned lineage. We will start this scenario with a diseased individual entering the habitat from a distant meta-population. With this event there will be a spectrum of possibilities, of which we will discuss the two extreme ends of this spectrum. The first possibility the disease finds it difficult to be transmitted from one individual to another and when it does it has little effect on the individual. The second possibility is that it finds in this meta-population a place where it is easily transmitted from one individual to the next and kills off a large portion of the population. Both of these scenarios or anywhere in the spectrum will largely be influenced by the differences or similarity in the mineral sources available to these two meta-populations. Of course the very concept of a meta-population implies there is a difference in the genetics between populations occupying different geographic regions. These genetic differences can be a response to a wide range of environmental attributes. So it would be reasonable to assume that there is a feedback loop between the specific minerals that these populations consume and their meta-population genetics. This would not be the only feedback loop related to minerals as there is almost certainly one between minerals and the plants they eat. Of course this would cause many other feedback loops such as between the plants they eat and that populations genetic response to them. I know of no scientific work that has been done on this subject. However there may be, but it does not seem like it has been acted upon. There is however a lot of work that has been done on domestic sheep that can be useful in direct the study of wild sheep. To get a grasp on how minerals affect the diseases of various meta-populations of wild sheep can only be done by properly funded scientific studies. It is also important that these studies do not languish in some scientific doldrum, but rather by their deliberate design are put to use by funded professional level programs.

Now let’s contemplate or the fifth thought experiment, in this experiment we will have the same size and shape of the habitat and placement of the mineral/water sources. Except this will not be a desert bighorn sheep habitat rather an Alpine habitat. Perhaps it could be in an isolated part of the Rocky Mountains. If the mineral sources for both the North and South spring are on the north slope as well as any other mineral sources they may be inaccessible due to snow cover for months at a time. In such a case the winter would be a time that is very cold where food is limited and minerals perhaps almost nonexistent. Such a situation would reduce the carrying capacity of this habitat significantly. So in an Alpine environment a year that lacks snow cover might be a good year for the sheep due to the increased availability of critical minerals. I have seen videos of sheep that were in alpine environments that were so desperate for minerals during the winter that they go down to parking lots and roads to lick underneath the fenders of cars for the salt enriched snow that is deposited there. Of course this salt was applied to the road to facilitate the melting of the snow. When considering the overall health of a particular herd engaging in this behavior, one has to consider various issues such as what is in and what is not in the salt they are using on the roads, as well as other contaminants such as oil and other residues from the road. Another thing to consider there may be significant health affect, good or bad due to the changes in the timing and distribution of this herd across their winter habitat. Currently I know of no meta-population that has this type of information available let alone being put to use.

Most issues dealing with wild sheep management will in one way or another have an association with minerals. Even issues such as predation that one might think has nothing to do with wild sheep consuming minerals, however in the end it is affected by minerals. To understand predation one has to understand the other side of that equation which is a populations ability to reproduce. Without a doubt wild sheep need proper access to minerals to reproduce at an optimum rate so they can sustain losses due to predation. Here again I do not know of any meta-population that has been studied examining the relationship between predation reproduction and minerals let alone put this information to use.

Once the ideas expressed in these thought experiments take hold we will enter an entirely new era of wild sheep management. One of the hallmarks of this new era will be people both professional and amateurs that will explore maintain and pass on knowledge that is specific to meta-populations and their habitat. Through this process we will see wild sheep populations achieve significant increase in population and inhabit places where they have been absent for many generations.