Influences of vegetation characteristics and invertebrate abundance of Rio Grande wild turkey populations, Edwards Plateau, Texas



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Texas A&M University


Since 1970, Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo intermedia) numbers in the southern region of the Edwards Plateau of Texas have been declining. Nest-site characteristics and invertebrate abundance were hypothesized as limiting wild turkey numbers in declining regions. Wild turkeys were trapped and fitted with mortality-sensitive radio transmitters on 4 study areas; 2 within a region of stable (northern Edwards Plateau) populations, and 2 within a region of declining populations. Monitoring occurred from February 2001 to August 2003. Nest-site locations were determined via homing during the breeding season. Following nesting attempts/completions, nest fate, vegetation height, visual obstruction, litter depth, percent cover, and cover scores of forbs, grass, litter, and bare ground at each nest site and surrounding area were sampled. This was done to determine if wild turkey hens selected nest sites with vegetative characteristics differing from surrounding habitat. Brood survival was calculated as >1 poult surviving to 2-weeks. Broods were followed for 6-weeks post-hatch or to brood failure. Invertebrates were collected, via sweep-net and D-vac, at each visually confirmed brood location and a paired random site to determine if wild turkey hens selected brood habitat based on invertebrate abundance. Analyses were performed to determine if invertebrate abundance differed between study regions. Turkey hens selected nest sites with greater visual obstruction and more litter depth on both regions of stable and declining turkey abundance. No vegetative differences were detected between stable and declining region nest sites. Frequency of Orthoptera was 3?5 times greater at nest sites on stable regions than declining regions in all 3 years. Orthoptera is a noted food source for young galliformes and comprised the majority of dry mass in invertebrate samples, nest sites and brood locations, on both the stable and declining regions. No differences in total invertebrate dry mass were detected between regional brood locations. Nest-site vegetative characteristics did not alter nest success between regions. The 2 overall objectives of this study were to determine if nest-site vegetation characteristics and invertebrate abundance affected wild turkey numbers in the Edwards Plateau. Regional differences in vegetative characteristics were not detected, thus not likely to be causing differences in turkey numbers between regions. Nest-site invertebrates were found to be 3?5 times greater at stable region nest sites, possibly giving wild turkey poults from stable regions greater initial chances of survival.