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Dispersal, Who Does It, and When

This Turkey Tuesday is about dispersal, who does it, and when. Natal dispersal (when young birds leave their first home range) is not well understood in wild turkeys. In many species, juvenile males will disperse from their natal range and end up in new home ranges nearby (or quite far away). But in wild turkeys, and many other bird species for that matter, evidence suggests that it’s actually juvenile females that end up dispersing. Earlier research suggested that in the absence of human intervention (us translocating or relocating birds, habitat fragmentation, etc.), dispersal in wild turkeys occurred during fall and was dominated by juvenile females that left their natal home range and traveled a short distance to join other winter flocks. Recent research by Sara Watkins added an interesting piece of information to the dispersal puzzle. She found that on sites where habitats were more fragmented and winter flocks were more isolated, many members of winter flocks were related. Basically, these flocks contained adults and juveniles (both males and females) related to some of the adults. But on a site where winter flocks were distributed throughout the site and habitats were contiguous, relatedness within winter flocks was >75% lower. This suggests there was much more natal dispersal by females on this site. That dispersal is happening now, in that juvenile females in many areas are leaving brood flocks they formed after hatching this past spring and summer, and are dispersing into nearby winter flocks. The take home is, dispersal is something we need to better understand in wild turkeys, as it’s a behavior that greatly influences how turkeys space themselves within our populations. Dispersal also is the key to ensuring that turkey populations maintain appropriate levels of gene flow and genetic diversity, both of which can influence population sustainability.

Picture © Tes Randle Jolly

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