Auburn professor studies causes of decline in turkey populations, aiming to reverse current trends


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In parts of Alabama and the southeastern United States, wild turkey populations have declined over the past 10 to 15 years. Will Gulsby, associate professor of wildlife management at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, is determined to identify these areas and develop solutions to reverse the decline.

Gulsby’s research is funded by the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Turkeys for Tomorrow, a Mississippi-based conservation nonprofit that began operating earlier this year.

“The wild turkey hunt has significant economic and cultural benefits for Alabama and beyond,” he said. “The economic impact of hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing in Alabama is $ 3.88 billion annually, and wild turkeys are one of the most sought-after game species of State.”

The conservation funding generated by the purchase of hunting licenses is essential to the conservation of wildlife and its habitats statewide.

Gulsby collects data on public and private lands, which are rarely included as wildlife population study sites, using stand-alone recording units in the nearly statewide region covered by study. The units record all ambient sounds in their vicinity for preprogrammed times throughout the day.

To analyze this data, the researchers will use a type of artificial intelligence known as a convolutional neural network, made possible by software developed by project collaborator Michael Chamberlain of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.

“Coupling these technologies allows us to determine the timing of turkey breeding behaviors on an unprecedented scale by maximizing the efficiency of data processing,” Gulsby said.

The project is both multifaceted and large-scale. The team’s first priority: to define the characteristics of areas where turkey numbers are abundant versus low and determine when the turkey gobbles across the state and how it is influenced by the pressure of the hunt.

“Gobbling plays a role in mate attraction, so knowing when birds gobble can be used to determine the timing of breeding activity,” Gulsby said.

The project also has two other goals: to determine the proportion of male turkeys capable of fertilizing egg clutches and to capture and equip the hens with GPS tracking devices that will monitor when they nest, the success and failure rates of their nests. , causes nesting failure and survival of young turkeys after they hatch. Researchers will also take tissue samples for later disease testing.

“Having more information on aspects of turkey reproduction allows us to better structure hunting regulations to match the biology of the species, ensuring sustainable populations in the future,” Gulsby said.

Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, said the organization was eager to support the research.

“We were impressed with Dr Gulsby’s thoughtful assessment of research opportunities that would help expand the information available and further inform decisions by landowners and land managers on how best to manage wild turkeys,” said Gothard. “The information gained from this research will further expand the available information that landowners and land managers can use to make decisions about the proper management and harvesting of wild turkeys in Alabama and beyond. “

Ron Jolly, co-chair of the board of Turkeys for Tomorrow, said Gulsby’s work will shed much needed light on the subject.

“Turkeys For Tomorrow was founded by a group of turkey hunters concerned about the decline of wild turkeys in the United States,” Jolly said. “We hope these studies will reveal answers to questions that experts like Dr. Gulsby believe are playing a role in the decline of wild turkeys. We can then share these answers with land managers, public and private, who can apply them to the whole landscape and start to reverse this downward trend. “

Dean Janaki Alavalapati of the School of Forest and Wildlife Sciences is excited about the research.

Dr. Gulsby’s unique and far-reaching research will provide valuable insight into why the turkey population has declined and, more importantly, lead to steps that can be taken to reverse this trend, for the benefit of environmentalists. , hunters and the state in general, “Alavalapati mentioned.” His work is an example of how our faculty’s cutting-edge research provides real-world solutions. “

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