Assessing Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate on Wild Turkeys Across the Southeastern U.S.

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Wild turkey is a culturally and economically important game species that has shown dramatic population declines throughout much of the southeastern U.S. A possible explanation for these declines is that the timing of nesting has shifted to earlier in the year while hunting seasons have remained the same. Wild turkeys are the only gamebird in the contiguous United States that are hunted during t...

Wild turkey is a culturally and economically important game species that has shown dramatic population declines throughout much of the southeastern U.S. A possible explanation for these declines is that the timing of nesting has shifted to earlier in the year while hunting seasons have remained the same. Wild turkeys are the only gamebird in the contiguous United States that are hunted during the reproductive season, so premature harvest of adult male turkeys may disrupt reproductive behaviors and reduce population growth.

In addition to hunter harvest, climate change can also impact population growth of wild turkeys. Local and broad-scale regional changes in precipitation and temperature associated with a changing climate can lead to changes in food and wildlife cover. If wildlife species, such as wild turkey, do not adapt to these weather and climate changes, the timing of their reproductive activities may become mismatched with the timing that maximizes the amount of food available to their young. This could also lead to population declines.

Researchers are using more than 10 years of reproduction data for wild turkeys from six states to explore the combined effects of climate and hunter harvest on wild turkeys. They will assess the relative importance of short-term weather events, longer-term weather shifts, and extreme weather events like intense rainfall on the variation in timing of nest initiation and the survival of nests across the entire region. In the face of ongoing climate change and the projected future weather extremes for the Southeast, the results will help managers make projections about the overall influence of climate on reproduction in wild turkeys and possibly adjust timing of hunter harvest and number of turkeys harvested. Specifically, the research group plans to engage resource managers in coproducing interactive models to project the potential vulnerability of wild turkeys under a wide range of climate scenarios.