The Impacts of Three Common Mesopredators on the Reintroduced Population of Eastern Wild Turkeys in Texas



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Early in the 20th century wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in North America were on the brink of extinction. Conservation and reintroduction efforts ensured that this species recovered throughout most of its historic range. Efforts to reintroduce eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris) to the Pineywoods of east Texas have achieved limited success. Previous research suggested that predation may have confounded this reintroduction. My aim was to quantify the influence of mesopredators on the wild turkey population in the Pineywoods. Raccoons (Procyon lotor), bobcats (Lynx rufus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) occur sympatrically in east Texas and are thought to prey on wild turkeys, their nests and poults. I fitted bobcats, coyotes and raccoons with both GPS and VHF collars and used location data and GIS applications to estimate home ranges, home range overlap and habitat selection for these mesopredators. I used scat analysis to determine diet of mesopredators and to establish whether they preyed on wild turkeys. I used capture mark recapture (CMR) techniques to investigate small mammal population dynamics at annual and seasonal bases. I used spotlight counts and track plates to assess seasonal relative abundance of eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridana). I used artificial nests to identify likely nest predators of wild turkey nests. I found that mesopredators in the Pineywoods had larger home ranges than elsewhere in the Southeast. Bobcat and coyote home ranges varied seasonally, being largest in fall. Raccoon home ranges did not vary seasonally. Bobcats and coyotes shared space more than did raccoons with bobcats or coyotes. There was differential habitat selection between species, but mature pine and young pine were important to the mesopredators and as nesting habitat for eastern wild turkeys. I found no evidence of wild turkey remains in scat samples. White tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), lagomorphs and small mammals occurred in the diets of all three mesopredators. Small mammal numbers varied seasonally, declining from spring to summer, in synchrony with mesopredator diet diversification, and wild turkey nesting and brood rearing. Lagomorph abundance did not vary seasonally. Bobcats were predominantly carnivorous while coyotes and raccoons were omnivorous, consuming seasonal fruit and insects. American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and raccoons were the primary artificial nest predators. Crows depredated most artificial nests, except in summer, when raccoons depredated the most nests. I concluded that the impact of mesopredators on wild turkeys was not as severe as suggested by previous research. I suggest a combination of video monitoring live wild turkey nests to identify nest predators, improvement of nesting habitat to reduce mesopredator / wild turkey nest encounters, and a program of conditioned taste aversion to reduce any nest predation by mesopredators and crows.