Potential Changes in Landscape Attributes and Impacts on Wild Turkey Populations in the Rolling Plains of Texas
Request for Proposals November 2021

Contact
Jason Hardin
Wild Turkey Program Leader
jason.hardin@tpwd.texas.gov
(512) 934-8306

Introduction

The Rio Grande wild turkey is found in semiarid landscapes across the western two-thirds of Texas. Wild turkey and other gallinaceous bird population shifts in these semiarid landscapes are closely tied to annual and seasonal temperatures and precipitation. In Texas, Rio Grande wild turkey populations are significantly influenced by the duration and severity of droughts but recover quickly in subsequent years with more favorable climatic conditions.

Wild turkey populations in portions of the Rolling Plains of Texas and Oklahoma appear to have experienced populations declines over the past decade. Based on harvest data from TPWD’s Small Game Harvest Survey, portions of the Rolling Plains along the Oklahoma border did not experience the population recovery observed across the rest of the Rio Grande wild turkey range in Texas following the 2011 drought. TPWD staff hypothesize the poor recovery may be due to changes in available roosting cover and/or changes in agricultural practices.

Additionally, in 2021, TPWD staff conducted surveillance for parasites and disease in 120 wild turkeys captured from Collingsworth and Hardeman counties. Disease and parasites were not found to be above baseline rates published in the literature. However, anecdotal evidence suggested higher parasite infection rates may occur in turkeys from landscapes with shorter grasses associated with heavy grazing. Although not as high a funding priority, TPWD would consider including funding for research into the effects of grazing pressure and associated vegetative structure on parasite loads in wild turkeys in the Rolling Plains as an additional objective, if feasible. However, research on the effects of changes in roosting cover and agricultural practices on turkey populations remains the priority.

Justification

Research on the effects of loss of suitable roosting trees, increased brush densities and parasite loads related to over-grazing on turkey populations in the Rolling Plains would address several strategies under goal one of TPWD’s 2015 Land and Water plan. Specifically:

  • Goal 1: Practice, encourage and enable science-based stewardship of natural and cultural resources.
    • Protect native plants, fish and wildlife and their habitats
    • Conduct strategic research on species, habitats, and ecosystems
    • TPWD will maintain the highest level of scientific validity and credibility

In addition, the requested research would also address one of TPWD’s top Upland Game Bird Strategic Plan goals of fostering conservation and awareness of upland game bird populations in Texas. One of the challenges outlined in this strategic plan for the Rolling Plains ecoregion/Central Mixed-Grass Prairie Bird Conservation Region is the loss of roosting cover and the impacts of this loss on the local wild turkey population.

Research Objectives

The study design should address these main objectives:

Required

  1. Investigate the influence of changing landscape characteristics on stable versus declining wild turkey populations and distributions in the Rolling Plains from 2000 to 2022 as affected by:
    1. Distribution and size of roosting stands (primarily cottonwoods) in the Rolling Plains for the years 2000 through 2022
    2. Brush density, distribution and woody habitat corridors from 2000 through 2022
    3. Changes and availability of beneficial agricultural crops from 2000 through 2022 based on the best available data
  2. Optional

  3. Investigate influence of heavy grazing on parasite loads in wild turkeys

Expected Management Implications

Information gained from this study will allow TPWD to better identify potential causes for the perceived wild turkey decline in the Rolling Plains. At the same time, knowledge gained from the proposed work will guide potential management solutions to help address and stem the potential decline and will be used to provide habitat management recommendations to land managers.