The National Wild Turkey Federation is helping fund a new wild turkey research project conducted by Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

The pioneering research project will utilize recent advances in genetic analysis to better understand wild turkey ecology and how certain factors — such as hunting seasons, land type and management practices — lead to more robust population densities.

“The goal of this research project is to provide improved estimates of multiple turkey population parameters, which will allow state wildlife agencies and turkey managers to make informed decisions regarding their management actions and hunting season frameworks,” said Mark McConnell, Ph.D., assistant professor at Mississippi State University.

Dana Morin, Ph.D., assistant professor at MSU and McConnell are the principal investigators of this project and are working in conjunction with MDWFP.

Accurately gauging the number of wild turkeys on a particular landscape is complicated. Population estimates are often made using rough approximations that rely on anecdotal accounts, volunteer surveys and catch-per-unit information.

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The other, more labor-intensive way wild turkey researchers and managers can estimate wild turkey numbers is by trapping and marking. While trapping and marking birds has provided valuable and insightful information for decades, it is expensive, takes a lot of personnel, is time-consuming and involves risks.

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Researchers at MSU and MDWFP are going around the challenges typically associated with trapping and marking by efficiently collecting genetic material left behind in the field, such as feathers or fecal droppings.

These genetic materials will be analyzed with DNA-based lab techniques and identify unique, individual birds on eight sites throughout Mississippi. The sites will include differing habitat types, management practices and turkey hunting seasons. Research sites fall within two of the NWTF’s Big Six Regions of Conservation, Southern Piney Woods and Mid-South Rebirth. $5 for the first 20 weeks

This new way to explore population densities will effectively allow researchers to create a database of individual wild turkeys on a specific project site, all by analyzing genetic material found in the field.

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