NWTF Tennessee helps add a new dimension to wild turkey research

When we think of the NWTF and Tennessee, we can’t help but think of our 50th anniversary celebration in Nashville right on the horizon, but that’s not the only thing to celebrate in the State of Volunteers: the NWTF State Chapter. of Tennessee recently helped expand the research. efforts that will ultimately benefit turkeys and turkey hunters.

The new research builds on the work of an active six-year research project led by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the University of Tennessee.

During the six years of the project, he has helped TWRA manage wild turkeys with the best available science and has helped collect essential information for the management of wild turkeys, including population vital rates (such as estimates of reproductive success and survival), habitat use, hunter attitudes and effort, disease ecology, and the effects of habitat management.

“We are excited to continue this research partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the National Wild Turkey Federation to address several important questions that have arisen over the past few years,” said David Buehler, Ph.D., professor of wildlife sciences from UT. “Because of the intensive monitoring we have conducted over the past six years of more than 700 radio-tagged hens and gobblers and more than 225 poults, we are uniquely positioned to address contemporary questions such as the effect of the two-week delay on the productivity of the turkeys. and populations. Tennessee’s science-based approach to turkey management should serve as a model for others to follow.”

“This project has provided important information to our agency,” said Roger Shields, TWRA Wild Turkey Program Coordinator and NWTF Technical Committee representative. “The most important thing is to understand that the observed decline in the turkey population here is not due to poor adult survival, but rather low productivity. Almost overall, we are seeing reproductive rates are lower than we would expect for a stable turkey population.”

While the NWTF Tennessee state chapter was involved in the Tennessee project at the beginning, the state chapter is providing additional funding to scale up the project and extend the data collection period.

“Because of the success of our research to date, we have an excellent opportunity to continue this research to further consider the impact of the timing of hunting seasons on productivity and to address several other important management-related questions,” said Shields. .

These additional questions that the project aims to answer in 2023 are:

  1. Does the two-week delay in the opening of the season influence the basic reproductive parameters, based on data from the last six years plus 2023?
  2. What is the effect of mammalian predator abundance on turkey survival and reproduction at the 10 sites TWRA and UT have monitored over the past six years plus 2023?
  3. What are the effects of site-specific, adapted field and forest management actions on the structure and composition of vegetation used for nursery habitat?

With around 70 hens still radium-tagged from last year and with six years of prior data, TWRA and UT are well positioned to address this new aspect of research.

“We have collected data, which has yet to be fully analyzed, in 2021 and 2022,” Shields said. “These data, in addition to what we collect this year, will give us a broader range to assess the effects of turkey season opening date on basic turkey reproductive parameters, including nesting rate, dates onset of nesting, clutch size, hatching rate, and nesting success. ”

The project will also seek to understand the effects of mammalian predators on wild turkeys by analyzing predator images taken by trail cameras at 10 different study sites. This information will help to illustrate how predator abundance changes from winter to breeding season. The research will then relate predator abundance to turkey reproduction and survival to determine if there are any correlations.

“When this project was started six years ago, it was probably the most comprehensive single study ever done on this important game bird,” Shields said. “The complexity of the questions that are being investigated to understand what is happening to these birds and their populations requires this type of extensive and intensive research that looks at all aspects of bird ecology and behaviour. The wealth of information we are gaining is, and will continue to be, incredibly valuable to TWRA as we consider turkey management recommendations for years to come.”

The NWTF Tennessee State Chapter helped fund the project from its early phases and is excited to support a new dimension of understanding.

“We are proud to commit $15,000 to this project from the NWTF Super Fund account,” said Mark Darnell, president of the NWTF Tennessee State Chapter. “Research will continue to increase our understanding of how timing of the season affects reproductive parameters such as nest initiation, clutch size, and hatchability. In addition, investigating the effect of mammalian predator abundance on the survival and reproduction of wild turkeys will help us gain a better understanding of predator/prey relationships.”

The Tennessee State Chapter also recently collaborated with the Indiana State Chapter on another University of Tennessee research project that is investigating fertilization of eggs and evidence of early embryonic mortality in wild turkey eggs collected from various eastern places. You can learn more about that project. here.