Researchers spearhead new study to better understand diseases in wild turkeys

EDGEFIELD, SC — The NWTF is helping to fund a new wild turkey research project that will use cutting-edge technologies to study disease at the cellular level, informing general understanding of disease ecology and helping guide future wild turkey management.

Lymphoproliferative disease virus, or LPDV for short, is well known among researchers and wildlife managers, as it is not uncommon for wild turkeys and other land birds to become infected. LPDV was first documented in a wild turkey in Arkansas in 2009 and has since been detected in wild turkeys in at least 29 states.

Some infected birds form tumors in their internal organs and skin and can exhibit many other side effects, such as weakness and lethargy, while some infected birds show no noticeable clinical signs but experience more insidious effects, such as decreased systemic health. immune. Although the disease can be detrimental to individual birds, less is known about its effect at the population level.

“Our primary goal is to determine where and to what extent LPDV is distributed throughout the body of infected wild turkeys, including comparison between turkeys that do not have obvious disease, those that have mild disease, and those that have severe disease. and deadly, like those with multi-organ lymphoid tumors,” said Nicole Nemeth, DVM, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “This will be achieved by adapting an existing advanced diagnostic tool for LPDV and for a similar tumor-causing virus that also circulates in wild turkeys, reticuloendotheliosis. [REV] virus.”

The team will examine LPDV and other diseases within the cells and tissues of wild turkeys and assess patterns of how the diseases spread and manifest themselves under a variety of circumstances.

Nemeth and his team will use the emerging capabilities of RNAscope. The technology allows users to examine the distribution and extent of virus components within diseased and non-diseased tissue at a cellular scale.

The researchers will develop this technique specifically for LPDV and REV to study not only single-virus infections, but also co-infections with both viruses.

Up to this point, it has been impossible to distinguish the extent of LPDV and REV infections in cells and tissues, and through RNAscope’s technology, the team will get a relatively clear picture of how widespread and damaging these viruses can be in birds over various stages of infection and disease.

Data obtained from laboratory findings will be compared to field data from various state agencies and will help better measure the population-level effects of LPDV on wild turkeys and what management strategies could be implemented if necessary. For example, the findings could provide a better understanding of how LPDV can affect the reproductive success of wild turkeys.

“We need to answer these basic questions at the cellular level to understand their effects on host fitness and extrapolate to potential population-level effects,” Nemeth said. “This information is crucial to understanding mortality investigations and field study findings, such as fertility reduction in the ongoing and future LPDV and REV studies. This research will drive future studies aimed at the overall goal of conservation and management of wild turkeys given the importance of turkeys as game birds.”

Samples will include birds from various states in the southeast, as well as experimentally infected turkeys for use as a comparison to naturally infected turkeys.

This project is one of seven new research projects the NWTF is funding, part of a $360,000 investment in wild turkey research that the NWTF presented at the 12th National Wild Turkey Symposium in 2022.

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

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

When the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in 1973, there were about 1.3 million wild turkeys in North America. After decades of work, that number reached an all-time high of nearly 7 million turkeys. To be successful, the NWTF supported science-based conservation and hunter rights. Today, NWTF is focused on the future of hunting and conservation through Save the Habitat. Save the hunt. initiative. Since 2012, this 10-year initiative has already eclipsed goals to conserve or enhance more than 4 million acres of essential wildlife habitat, recruit or retain more than 1.5 million hunters, and open access to more than 500,000 acres for hunting and other recreational opportunities. This critical work will continue to impact wildlife habitat and our outdoors in the final year of the initiative.