How can studying Soay sheep on St Kilda help conservation and farming in the Welsh uplands? 

Hannah Vallin, Mariecia Fraser, Helen Hipperson

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


The feral population of primitive Soay sheep on the remote island of St Kilda, located west of the Outer Hebrides, provides a unique research resource, and scientists have been studying related evolutionary genetics and population dynamics for decades. Expanding on past research, this project is specifically addressing unanswered questions associated with nutritional ecology, to provide an evidence base from which to explore the extent to which food availability and dietary choices influence parasite burdens and health. The island is covered in vegetation typical of many upland areas along the west coast of Britain. Diet studies have not previously been undertaken on the island due to the challenges associated with working with free-ranging animals. However, as there are no competitors on St Kilda, it provides an ideal system to study plant-herbivore interactions. Carrying out field work with wild Soay sheep allows for regular collection of faecal samples from known individuals, whose life history and genetic traits are well documented. In this project these faecal samples will be processed via modern sequencing technologies to identify plant DNA the animals have consumed, and the results, together with data from botanical surveys on St Kilda, will provide insight into how the dietary preferences of sheep differ at e.g. different ages and seasons. This information will be combined with other measures to increase our understanding of interactions between diet choice, immunity, gut bacteria and parasite burden. Outputs will have relevance to both wild and domesticated herbivore populations, and the knowledge gained will improve further decision-making and the development of predictive models used for ecosystem conservation management. Additionally, within the livestock industry they will support optimal grazing regimes within extensive sheep systems, potentially reducing the need for anthelmintic drugs whilst improving animal nutrition via grazing management and avoiding over-exploitation and depletion of habitat resources.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventResilience in the Welsh Uplands - An Evidence Perspective: Environment Evidence 2020 - Online
Duration: 14 Sept 202018 Sept 2020


ConferenceResilience in the Welsh Uplands - An Evidence Perspective
Period14 Sept 202018 Sept 2020
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'How can studying Soay sheep on St Kilda help conservation and farming in the Welsh uplands? '. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this