Time-since-fire and stand seral stage affect habitat selection of eastern wild turkeys – 2018.

WOOD, J.W., B.S. Cohen, T.J. Prebyl, L.M. Conner, B.A. Collier, and M.J. Chamberlain. 2018. Forest Ecology and Management 411:203-212.

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests rely on prescribed fire to limit encroachment of hardwoods and maintain
early successional understory communities. However, prescribed fire may alter habitat availability while female
eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) are reproductively active. In addition, the vigor of vegetation
regrowth post-fire is impacted by both midstory and overstory stand-conditions which can be a function of stand
age. Therefore, the degree to which prescribed fire affects habitat availability and selection of wild turkeys may
be a function of both time-since-fire and the age of the stand fire was applied to. We assessed habitat selection of
female wild turkeys during their reproductive cycle in a longleaf pine forest managed with frequent prescribed
fire. We captured 63 female wild turkeys during 2015 and 2016 on a longleaf pine-dominated landscape in
southwestern Georgia, USA, that was managed with 1–3 year fire-return intervals applied to relatively small
burn blocks (mean size of burn=26.02 ha in 2015; 19.84 ha in 2016) on pine stands of varying age-classes. We
attached Global Positioning Systems units to individuals and collected hourly locations from 1 March to 15
August. We then used distance-based analyses to estimate daily selection or avoidance of vegetation communities
relative to the known reproductive phenology of individual females. Females selected hardwood stands
during pre-nesting and post-nesting phases, but avoided them during the incubation phase. Females used open
vegetation communities during all phases of reproduction following pre-nesting. Turkeys selected areas burned
≤2 years prior but used different seral stages of pine during different reproductive phases. Specifically, females
selected for recently burned mature pine stands during incubation but then selected for recently burned young
pine stands, mature pine stands burned 2 years earlier, and open vegetation communities during brooding. Our
findings demonstrate that time-since-fire and stand seral age interact to affect how turkeys use pyric landscapes.
In general, pine stands providing ample understory vegetation are favored while females are reproductively
active. Our data suggests practitioners should try to manage a landscape containing both young and mature pine
stands and use prescribed fire to create understory conditions selected by turkeys across all reproductive phases.

 

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