The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources partners with several universities on wildlife research projects.
EASTERN WILD TURKEY -- In 2015, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) and the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Auburn University (Unit), began the most comprehensive study of Eastern wild turkey ever conducted in the state. For the next six years, Unit and WFF staff, along with multiple graduate students and technicians captured and marked turkeys with radio transmitters and leg bands to measure movement, survival, and production rates on public and private lands in major ecoregions of the state. The fundamental objective of the research project was to develop a turkey population model based on current conditions to evaluate the effect of various management alternatives on turkey populations and hunter harvest.
The research project resulted in determining the current vital rates of wild turkeys in Alabama and the development of a Decision Support Tool (DST) to evaluate impacts of management alternatives. Results of the research project are presented across one comprehensive final report and five supplemental theses, which included studies to evaluate biases associated with various turkey capture and monitoring methods.
Support for the project was provided by several entities. Primary funding provided by WFF through the Wildlife Restoration Federal Grant Program; Auburn University; and the U.S. Geological Survey. Supplemental funding for project equipment through Alabama Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Super Fund. In-kind support provided by Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and NWTF to determine stakeholder preferences and valuing the outcome of results in the DST.
Summary -- The Eastern wild turkey Decision Support Tool (DST) is functionally a turkey population model founded on local vital rates (i.e., survival, harvest, and recruitment) that are projected over a 30-year time horizon to compare impacts of different harvest management alternatives on the turkey population (i.e., density), harvest (i.e., density of adult male harvest), and stakeholder value (i.e., Alabama avid turkey hunters, WFF biologists, AWF and NWTF partners) of outcomes. In general, the DST evaluates eight (8) different harvest management alternatives for spring turkey season including the status quo (current season structure), highly restricted season (10-day) (Restricted), closed season (Closed); as well as five alternatives that included combinations of reduced bag limit (RB), later opening date (OL), and shortened season (SS). This resulting DST from the cooperative research project provides a means for WFF to evaluate and compare impacts of different harvest management alternatives on turkey populations and harvest outcomes over time to make more scientifically informed management decisions regarding turkey populations in Alabama.
Results -- An evaluation of results from the DST indicates the statewide wild turkey population will continue to decline under the current (status quo) harvest management framework (Figure 4). Overall, given the current state of the turkey population in Alabama, the most optimal harvest management alternatives to increase the turkey population are a Closed season or a Restricted season. However, when comparing across all season frameworks, any harvest management alternative that includes later opening date (OL) results in sustaining or stabilizing the population over time. Whereas those harvest management alternatives that do not impact productivity (i.e. reduce bag only (RB) and status quo) result in continued population declines. In terms of stakeholder value on outcomes (i.e., density of adult males, density of gobbler harvest), our stakeholders (i.e., a subset of Alabama avid turkey hunters, WFF biologists, AWF and NWTF partners) placed twice as much value on outcomes with higher harvest than higher gobbler density. The DST also evaluated the tradeoff in outcomes of turkey population growth, density of adult males in spring, and density of gobbler harvest across all harvest management alternatives. The alternatives that most frequently ranked as best (highest long-run value over time) given stakeholder values were the alternatives of reduce bag-open season later-shorten season (RB OL SS), Restricted season, and the open season later (OL) alternative. Learn more about this project.
Summary -- An important component of effectively managing wildlife is understanding the size and structure of their populations. The optimal management action for a population will often change depending on its current size and demographic structure. Regular monitoring enables managers to assess a population’s status and reduce uncertainty surrounding the impacts of available management options. In the absence of monitoring, managers rely on expert knowledge about populations to make management decisions. Many southern states, including Alabama, manage eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) according to indefensible estimation methods such as those based on expert opinion or opportunistic roadside surveys. There is little confidence in the accuracy of these estimates, and they lack any measure of precision. Surveys, based on counts, designed to monitor turkey population size and structure would provide better information on which to base management decisions. This project explored the use of gobble count and camera trap surveys in conjunction with occupancy as a means for monitoring wild turkey populations. Estimates of use, density, and productivity produced from these methods can better inform managers about the populations they are managing and can reduce uncertainty in management decisions.
The goal of the study was to examine differences in the distribution and density of turkeys in varying landcover types across Alabama while accounting for factors that affect detection. The study objectives were to 1) increase precision and accuracy of population estimates by identifying and estimating influences of weather, timing, and study area on the probability of detecting turkeys during a survey; 2) estimate wild turkey probability of use and density within study areas; and 3) identify potential sources of bias in estimates of turkey use and density due to landcover characteristics. Learn more about this project.
Summary -- Estimates of annual and seasonal survival are important in understanding the size, structure, and growth rates of turkey populations. They are critical components of the decision support tool, and vital to our understanding of the perceived decline of wild turkeys in the state of Alabama. However, researchers often assume survival estimates are not adversely affected by capture and marking beyond a two-week post capture period. The implications of this research could influence the methodologies used to capture, handle, and mark, as well as than analysis of data used to estimate survival rates. For this study, the effects of the capture, handling, and marking process on wild turkey survival post-capture are evaluated. In addition, the objectives were to: 1) estimate annual and seasonal survival rates of each turkey age and sex class and 2) determine the relationship of turkey survival to temperature, precipitation, forest composition, road density, and study area. Learn more about results of this project. Learn more about this project.
Summary -- Conflicting estimates of the size and productivity of Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallapavo silvestris) populations led biologists in Alabama to seek repeatable, less-biased, survey methods. Previously, estimates of turkey populations were based on opportunistic surveys, expert opinion, or population reconstruction from uncorrected harvest data. The objectives were to: 1) compare estimates of detection and occupancy dynamics for turkey populations between camera surveys conducted on wildlife openings (WLO) versus randomly selected sites; and 2) investigate the effects of bait on estimates of detection and occupancy dynamics for turkey populations. Learn more about this project.
Summary -- Estimating eastern wild turkey population demographics precisely and accurately is essential for effective harvest and habitat management. There are a number of sampling methods that can be applied to gain information on population demographics, including, but not limited to: transect sampling, banding, radio-telemetry, and camera trapping. Camera trap surveys are an increasingly popular and effective means of monitoring wildlife populations; however, the images produced require careful, expert interpretation, which is often expensive and time consuming. Nonetheless, it is important to monitor the impacts of changes in management such as hunting regulations to evaluate their effectiveness. Site occupancy is a useful parameter for monitoring turkey populations at large spatial scales because they occur at relatively low densities. Managers are able estimate and quantify the parameters that influence occupancy estimates including imperfect detection on camera trap surveys. This study contributes to the available knowledge about turkey populations in Alabama, the effects of management on those populations, and the ability to conduct cost-effective surveys for monitoring turkeys. Machine Learning (ML), a form of artificial intelligence was examined as a means of automating image classification to reduce the cost of camera trap surveys. Occupancy estimates from ML classified images were compared to those from manually interpreted images and suggestions were made to improve estimates of occupancy based on ML classified images. In addition, an analysis of the effects of experimental changes in hunting regulations at several wildlife management areas across Alabama on turkey occupancy dynamics using camera trap surveys was presented. Together these results represent significant advances in methods to monitor the effects of management on turkey populations across their range. Learn more about this project.
BLUE CRAB -- In 2016, the Alabama Marine Resources Division began working with researchers at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana to tag 31,000 mature female blue crabs to monitor movements, connectivity, and mortality in the Gulf of Mexico. Tags are orange 1″ x 2″ plastic rectangles wired around the crab’s spines. This is a cooperative project with the university and all five Gulf states. Learn more about this project.
RED SNAPPER -- Red snapper fish are being tagged as part of a collaborative study being conducted by Auburn University, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and the University of South Alabama, and funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division to examine recreational fisheries management in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Scientists will tag 750 red snapper beginning in May 2016. Each yellow tag is worth a $250 reward, and 250 of those fish will have two tags worth a total of $500. Learn more about this project by visiting Auburn University or the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.