The Bighorn Sheep and Their Environment


Download the files below to use offline, or to incorporate into your own lesson planning tools.

Setting the Stage lesson plan



Setting the Stage investigation booklet




(Estimated Time: 45 minutes)

Students will learn about Dr. Clinton Epps and his research study on isolation and inbreeding in bighorn sheep.  The bighorn sheep population,  natural and manmade barriers, and the connection between daily life and wildlife populations  are introduced.

1. Introduce the case study goals and Dr. Clinton Epps, the scientist who conducted the research. (1 minute)

"We are going to spend the next week or so discussing a case study of real scientific research that has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  The goals of the case study are to:

  • Learn about real scientists and their stories – what motivates them, how and why they ask questions and what type of data or evidence they collect to address their questions.
  • Connect regular daily life activities to ecology
  • Connect disruptions in ecological function to environmental issues

"Along the way, we will learn about some ecological concepts that are relevant for understanding the case study.

"We will be studying the work that Clinton Epps, now a professor at Oregon State University, conducted while he was a graduate student. This work took him to the deserts of California and Nevada to study desert bighorn sheep.  As part of his work, he wondered how major highways that were built to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas might affect the bighorn sheep populations. These highways mean that people can travel between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in just four hours, but what do they mean for the sheep?"

2. Watch the Science Bulletin: Highways Block Bighorn Sheep. (4 minutes)
bighorn sheep

Video, Educator Materials

Highways Block Bighorn Sheep

This Science Bulletin, Highways Block Bighorn Sheep, is based on the scientific research of Clinton Epps. He was interested in understanding if highways built to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas might affect bighorn sheep populations.

3. Watch the Meet the Bighorn Sheep slide show. (5 minutes)  
Bighorn Sheep Map Roads Populations

Educator Materials

Meet the Bighorn Sheep

This slideshow provides background information on the bighorn sheep and their habitat and breeding habits.

4. Watch the Highways Impact slide show and discuss. (4 minutes)

The slide show presents:

  • Why highways between LA and Las Vegas are vital to Nevada’s economy.
  • Potential impacts of highways on wildlife (road kill, pollution).
Southern California Highway

Educator Materials

Highways Impact

This slideshow provides background information on the human motivation for building large highways in the region occupied by the bighorn sheep.

5. Discuss natural and human-made barriers. (5 minutes)
Boundaries Mason Dixon

Educator Materials

Boundaries and Isolation

This discussion explores the difference between natural and human-made boundaries and their effect on isolated populations.

6. Discuss the effect of isolation on mate choice. (4 minutes)
Group of bighorn sheep

Educator Materials

Isolation and Mate Choice

This discussion explores how artificial boundaries can decrease mate choice, with a specific example of highways limiting mate choice for bighorn sheep.

7. Watch the profile of the Dr. Clinton Epps and discuss. (14 minutes)

The discussion explores:

  • Dr. Epp’s motivation for his research.
  • DNA collection in the video, and how DNA patterns can reveal levels of breeding.
Clinton Epps video keyframe

Video, Educator Materials

Scientist Profile: Dr. Clinton Epps

Video profile of Dr. Clinton Epps, who studies bighorn sheep populations.  Includes discussion questions about scientific practice and how scientists use DNA to study populations.

8. Complete an activity that models how DNA can be used to detect genetically isolated bighorn sheep populations. (5 minutes)
Colored Popsicle Sticks

Educator Materials

Using DNA to Detect Isolated Populations

Use popsicle sticks, M&Ms or other colored tokens to demonstrate how DNA can be used to determine whether populations are isolated from one another.

9. Complete the Setting the Stage section of the Investigation Booklet. (4 minutes)
 Summary / Assessment: Ask students to complete the Setting the Stage and the Scientific Process in Action section of the Investigation Booklet, available in the Downloads section on this page.