The Bighorn Sheep and Their Environment

Part of the Ecology Disrupted Curriculum Collection.

A close-up of a man outdoors in a low scrubby dry environment beneath a clear sky during the day.


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)

3. Watch the Meet the Bighorn Sheep Slide Show (5 minutes)  

4. Watch the Highways Impact Slide Show and discuss. (4 minutes)

The slide show presents: 1) Why highways between LA and Las Vegas are vital to Nevada’s economy; 2) Potential impacts of highways on wildlife (road kill, pollution).

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

6. Discuss the effect of Isolation on Mate Choice. (4 minutes)

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.

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

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.