Pioneering wild turkey research underway

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is helping to fund a new research project on wild turkeys conducted by Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fish and Parks. The groundbreaking research project will use recent advances in genetic analysis to better understand wild turkey ecology and how certain factors, such as hunting seasons, land type and management practices, lead to more robust population densities.

“The goal of this research project is to provide improved estimates of multiple turkey population parameters, which will enable state wildlife agencies and turkey managers to make informed decisions regarding their management actions and frameworks.” hunting season,” said Mark McConnell, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Mississippi State University.

Dana Morin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at MSU, and McConnell are the principal investigators on this project and are working in conjunction with MDWFP.

It is difficult to accurately measure the number of wild turkeys in a particular landscape. Population estimates are often made using rough approximations based on anecdotal accounts, volunteer surveys, and unit catch information.

The other, more labor-intensive way that wild turkey researchers and managers can estimate wild turkey numbers is by trapping and marking them. While trapping and marking birds has provided valuable and insightful information for decades, it is expensive, highly staffed, time-consuming and risky. MSU and MDWFP researchers are addressing the challenges typically associated with trapping and tagging by efficiently collecting genetic material left behind in the field, such as feathers or fecal droppings.

These genetic materials will be analyzed using DNA-based laboratory techniques and will identify unique individual birds at eight sites throughout Mississippi. Sites will include different habitat types, management practices, and turkey hunting seasons. The research sites are within two of the NWTF’s Six Great Conservation Regions, Southern Piney Woods and Mid-South Rebirth.

This new way of exploring population densities will allow researchers to create a database of individual wild turkeys at a specific project site, all by analyzing genetic material found in the field.

This new process will uncover information that will be especially useful to wildlife researchers and managers, including:

• Estimate the total number of male and female turkeys at a variety of sites with different management and hunting settings;
• Compare survival rates between sites with different management and hunting settings;
• Evaluate the accuracy of commonly used techniques, such as brood and camera censuses; Y
• Relate health parameters, such as disease, parasite and aflatoxin prevalence, to changes in turkey numbers over time.

“At the end of the day, the basic thing that hunters and managers alike want to know is why are there more turkeys in some places than others and what are the factors driving those differences,” said Adam Butler, wild turkey program coordinator. from the MDWFP and NWTF Technical Committee representative for Mississippi. “We’re excited about this opportunity to harness new technology to answer those questions, and we truly believe this project will move the ball forward in understanding how this bird we all treasure works.”

By having well-informed estimates of wild turkey populations in various regions of Mississippi, researchers and managers can gain a deeper understanding of wild turkey ecology and its response to human management and influence, allowing the agency offer best management practices at best. time, ultimately bolstering both wild turkey numbers and hunter satisfaction.

“The NWTF is proud to partner with academics, agencies and other NGOs to enhance resources,” said Mark Hatfield, NWTF National Director of Conservation Services. “This exciting new project will use cutting-edge science to help inform management decisions and give us a better understanding of how we can bolster wild turkey populations.”

This project is one of seven new research projects being funded by the NWTF. At the 12th National Wild Turkey Symposium, the NWTF announced the NWTF’s $360,000 new investment in wild turkey research.

In addition to the NWTF’s recent investment, the organization further illustrated the importance of wild turkey research by pledging to hold the 13th National Wild Turkey Symposium in 2025. The symposium is usually held every five years, but the NWTF is working to accelerate the meeting of researchers and managers to turn the tide of population decline.