Estimating Distribution and Abundance of Rio Grande Wild Turkeys in South Texas



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Sustainable management of wildlife populations relies on accurate estimates of population size as harvest recommendations are dependent on estimates of sustainable surplus. Techniques for surveying wild turkey populations in Texas are constrained by land access issues, requiring that new methods be developed for population monitoring. I evaluated a combined approach using patch-occupancy modeling at broad spatial scales and intensive double observer roost surveys at local scales to estimate Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo intermedia) distribution and abundance. I flew replicated aerial surveys during 2007 and 2008 to evaluate distribution of Rio Grande wild turkeys in the south Texas Coastal Sand Plains. I used a double observer approach to estimate local scale abundance. I used a single observer approach to estimate temporal variation in roost use. Detection probabilities from aerial surveys ranged between 0.24 (SE = 0.031) and 0.30 (SE = 0.083). Spatial parameters that influenced distribution of wild turkeys included size of suitable roosting habitat patches and distance to the nearest suitable roosting habitat. I conducted 100 inter-patch double observer roost counts, with counts ranging between 0 to 183 individuals. Average detection probabilities for observers were ~0.90. Roost level occupancy was ~0.84 with detection probabilities between 0.69 (SE = 0.107) and 0.79 (SE = 0.091). Based on my results, aerial surveys combined with local abundance estimation may be one viable alternative to monitor turkey populations over large spatial scales, by reducing overall survey effort without loss of estimated precision.